Thursday, December 5, 2013
Frozen rain falling in parts of Dallas-Fort Worth
Icemageddon is upon us.
After days of watches that turned into warnings, below-freezing temperatures and precipitation are beginning to fall in North Texas.
Shortly before 3 p.m., reports were coming in from Fort Worth to Frisco of accumulating ice on cars and even some roadways. But this is just a precursor to the bigger event still expected to hit North Texas later Thursday night, possibly impacting the children’s parade on Saturday and the Dallas Marathon, which are still scheduled.
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“This is just a band of moisture headed through the Metroplex,” says Jamie Gudmestad, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office. “We’re getting reports of freezing rain with sleet mixed in. But we’re expecting the heavier amounts later on, closer to midnight. This is one of the swaths of moisture associated with the upper-level storm.”
Shortly before 2 p.m., Matt Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office, said he expects the freezing rain will hit Dallas around 4 p.m.
“That’s when we’ll start getting some ice on windshields,” he said. “But I don’t see it impacting roads that much — at first. The freezing rain will continue for a few hours, and by 7 p.m. bridges and overpasses will be impacted. Then, around 9, that’s when the roads should start to see some ice.”
For that reason, Dallas County has closed its offices Friday. The Dallas Zoo will also close Friday.
Early in the day the North Texas Tollway Authority this afternoon began ramping up efforts to prevent roads from freezing. The agency, which operates roads that collectively run 115 miles long, will coat bridges and overpasses with salt to prevent anything that falls on them from freezing. Once frozen precipitation begins falling, the agency’s dozens of trucks will be out in full-force spreading de-icing materials and sand.
“It’s going to be continuous from that point forward,” said Michael Rey, the agency’s spokesman.
Rey said NTTA is staffed well enough to handle a weather event that lasts through the weekend.
“It sounds like it’s an extended event,” Rey said.
He said they also have enough de-icing materials on hand.
Rey said the key to keeping the roads safe is all in the timing of when they spray the de-icing chemicals. The goal is to coat the roads just before or as freezing precipitation starts. If they move too early, traffic can prevent the chemicals from properly coating roads.
If the bad weather hits around rush hour, Rey said he hopes commuters don’t tailgate the sanding trucks, even though those vehicles may slow traffic down. He said the trucks need the room and patience from other drivers to do their jobs so the roads don’t freeze over for everyone.
“It’d be wise to stay off the sanders,” Rey said.
The city of Dallas is, as always, ready to go to Ice Force Level 1. The trucks and spreaders are “ready and warm,” says city spokesman Jose Luis Torres.
“Ice Force One will be activated if and when bridges and overpasses start freezing,” he says, noting that 30 trucks and 70 crew will be dispatched at that point. “If it escalates they will go to Ice Force Two with 70 sanding trucks and 145 staff,” he says. They will operate 12-hour shifts [and] use a mix of 93 percent sand and 7 percent salt on bridges, overpasses, inclines and intersections on most major thoroughfares working from central city outward. For the Central Business District they will use Meltdown-20 high-performance granular deicer. Streets usually won’t sand residential areas unless DPD or DFR requests it. Sanding operations will include the hospital district as a priority.”
TxDOT also recommends checking travel conditions before heading out.
“Oncor has been preparing for this for the past couple of days,” says Oncor spokesperson Jamie Molina. “We’re making sure our crews are ready and our trucks are ready. We’re in constant contact with other resources in and out of the state. But what you have to remember is there haven’t been any outages yet. All we can do is wait and see what happens. We’ve been preparing for this, and what’s really important is for them to stay safe. This has the likelihood of causing outages because of the ice on trees, which could cause downed power lines, and if they see a downed power line call 911 immediately.”
Molina also suggests customers register with Oncor’s text-outage program, which you can do by texting “REG” to 66267. (You will need to have your ESI number handy.)
Oncor also has a field of replacement transformers at the ready.
“But during an outage just text ‘OUT’ to that number,” Molina says, “and it will report the outage and give them estimated time of restoration.”
Says Bishop, Dallas-Fort Worth should begin to see light precipitation shortly before sunset, with “some really minor accumulation from 6 p.m. till midnight.” After that, he says, “it’s really Going to intensity, and that’s when most of our accumulation will occur — from midnight till midday Friday, around noon. But even tonight, at rush hour, I would still use caution. Even then we could see some slick spots on bridges and overpasses.”
Bishop and former WFAA meteorologist Steve McCauley concur: They’re expecting 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice between midnight and Friday around noon, with about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of sleet on top of that. And they’re especially concerned about what that means for tree limbs and power lines — especially with winds expected to be out of the north at 20 miles per hour.
“I would be prepared for many of the roadways becoming impassable overnight,” says Bishop. “That’s just due to the ice making it too hazardous to drive. And there could be power outages by tomorrow morning once the trees start getting weighed down — you could see branches fall on power lines.”
Accuweather shares their concerns. In a release sent Thursday morning, the weather service said that the storm expected to stretch from North Texas to Kentucky “has the potential to allow one half an inch or more of ice to accumulate on the ground and accrue on elevated surfaces. The storm is similar in size and may be similar in magnitude to a storm just several years ago.”
That storm occurred in January 2009, when some 1.4 million homes nationwide were left without power.
In a statement issued at 2:50 p.m., Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he made the decision to close the county offices tomorrow.
“After a 2 p.m. conference call with federal, state, and local emergency partners and the National Weather Service, I’ve made the decision to close Dallas County for tomorrow Friday, December 6, 2013, for all non-essential employees,” he said in a statement. “This means courts and county offices will be closed to the public.
“According to the NWS, there is a high degree of confidence there will be a significant ice storm beginning this evening and they have informed us as emergency management officials to be ‘prepared for a two or three day period of winter weather impacts.’ Based on all the above, I am closing Dallas County for business tomorrow and recommending that private businesses use appropriate caution. Please consider allowing employees to work from home when practical as well as consider canceling non-essential events or office hours.”
American Airlines, D/FW’s biggest carrier, has cancelled about 12 percent of its flights through the evening, airport operations chief Jim Crites told the airport’s board this morning. American said in a statement that “because of the anticipated winter weather American Airlines and American Eagle have proactively canceled nearly 500 flights in and out of the DFW Airport through 11 a.m. central time Friday, Dec. 6.”
Regional carrier and American affiliate American Eagle has cancelled about 37 percent, Crites said. Carriers with a smaller D/FW presence that operate out of Terminal E — Air Canada, Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, United, US Airways, Virgin America and WestJet — had not announced cancellations, he said.
It’s a large-scale storm, but Crites said air traffic is light this week and the de-icing system is set to go.
At Dallas Love Field, some concessions and security screening will remain open through the night, in case of delays and cancellations.
“We’re planning on being here all night,” said Mark Duebner, the city’s director of aviation.
Duebner said he is hopeful the airport runway temperatures will remain above freezing overnight, thanks to the recent warm weather.
“It’ll be awhile for them to give up a lot of their heat,” Duebner said.
If and when they do drop below freezing, airport personnel will be ready to treat portions of the 14 million square feet of concrete runways and taxiways.
“We’re prepared if we have extended precipitation to put down a liquid material that will keep ice form sticking to the pavement,” he said.
He also noted that the airport invested in new and upgraded equipment following the rash of winter weather during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. They added three large dump trucks with plow blades and a rotating broom that can sweep snow and sleet.
Anyone seeking information about the airport can call 214-670-LOVE (5683).
For now, officials at Children’s Medical Center Dallas say the annual Christmas parade will march on as planned Saturday morning.
“It’s fluid,” said Lori Waggoner, a spokeswoman for the hospital. “We’re watching the weather, we’re talking with the city and right now we’re proceeding as if the parade is happening on Saturday. Tomorrow this time, we might be making some different decisions.”
Waggoner said hospital officials will reassess tomorrow morning when they see how much, if any, ice has accumulated on city streets and how many flights into the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport are cancelled.
So far, The Dallas Tap Dazzlers, a group of female dancers with an average age of 65, and the UNT band have cancelled. Other groups, including the Air Force Band and an equestrian group from Medieval Times, have notified parade officials they will not perform in inclement weather.
“We’re a children’s hospital,” she said. “The safety of children and families is our absolute priority. Yeah, the forecast is bad, but until it goes from forecast to reality, it’s too soon to say we’re cancelling the parade.”
If the forecast holds and city streets are closed by ice, hospital sources said the parade may morph into a circus-like performance and be held in the hospital’s butterfly atrium Saturday morning.
That event would not be open to the public, but ticket holders and families who were scheduled to appear in the parade would be welcome. Tickets to the parade, which ranged in price from $25 to $120, will not be refunded.
Waggoner said no firm decisions have been made.
“We want to do what’s best for the kids, but there is not a firm Plan B or C,” she said. “There are a lot of ideas there’s a lot of conversation, but it’s still a very fluid situation.”
Meanwhile, Dallas Marathon organizers say they are “closely monitoring the Dallas weather forecast and unless conditions are deemed unsafe for our race participants by the Dallas Police Department or the City of Dallas, we anticipate that the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon will go on as planned. We will notify participants and the general public with updates via the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon email database, social media channels and through media outlets.”
It’s likely they will issue a decision by 5 p.m. Thursday.
Dallas-area homeless shelters are bracing for the weather by allowing people to check in all day, rather than waiting for the usual check-in time in the afternoon.
Freezing temperatures and hazardous weather usually push many homeless who sleep outdoors to seek shelter, said Salvation Army spokesman Pat Patey. He said during extreme weather, the Salvation Army sees a spike in clients wanting a warm place to sleep.
And as long as there is bad weather, people who sleep at most area shelters will be welcome to stay inside the shelter after checkout time to take refuge from the winter storm.
Events scheduled for tonight through the weekend are being canceled already.
Check here for our continually updated list of postponements and cancellations related to high school football playoffs.
The University of North Texas in Denton is closing its campus at 1 p.m. today, and will remain closed Friday.
But the Dallas Independent School District, which seldom cancels classes, has not nixed Friday’s lesson plan.
“DISD is monitoring the weather,” said a tweet from Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles just after noon. “Any decision about closing schools will be announced on dallasisd.org and via @dallasschools.”
Fair Park Holiday, scheduled for this weekend, has been canceled; so too has the Reliant Lights event in the Arts District, which is being moved to December 13.
Cedar Hill’s Old Town Holiday on the Hill and tree-lighting ceremony, scheduled for tonight, has been also been cancelled, as has Friday’s Party on the Plaza with WFAA-TV’s Daybreak. Grand Prairie has cancelled its Christmas Tree lighting at City Hall scheduled for tonight.
Forecasters expect a break around noon tomorrow into Saturday afternoon, when another upper-level trough will bring another shot at freezing rain into Sunday morning — just in time for the Dallas Marathon, which is still on. But it’s not likely to get above freezing until Sunday afternoon, when it could reach 34 degrees — though if we’re encased in ice, it’s not likely to get above freezing until Monday.
“If we do have a good coating of ice, that’s really going to hinder our ability to heat up during the day,” says Bishop.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit says that in advance of the ice storm, it will run trains overnight “to keep the overhead power lines, tracks and switches clear from ice buildup.’ Those trains will not be picking up passengers.
“Additional buses and operators will be ready in the event that bus bridges are needed along rail lines,” says DART. “Crews will be ready to deploy sand and ice melt at DART rail stations.”
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will announce its winter weather plans by 5 a.m. Friday.
The library, part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, has a few different options to confront the icy weather that’s expected to come over North Texas later Thursday. That includes delaying opening until 11 a.m. or closing altogether.
A Bush Library spokesman said the decision would be posted online and on the library’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
The complex has been a popular spot of late, with attendance being boosted by a special holiday exhibit that looks at the White House Christmas of 2001. More than 270,000 guests have toured the museum since it opened to the public in May.
We’ll be updating this item throughout the day, as conditions change.
Staff writers Tom Benning, Stephanie Embree, Scott Farwell, Brandon Formby, Scott Goldstein, Randy Lee Loftis, Terry Maxon and Christina Rosales contributed to this report.