Three dead, nearly 2,000 flights canceled as ice storm sweeps the South

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A strong ice storm that has swept across parts of the South has been blamed for three deaths on roads and has contributed to nearly 2,000 flight cancellations, officials said Tuesday.

By early evening, the storm spread from the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area to Memphis, Tennessee, with officials in both cities urging motorists to stay put through Thursday, if possible, when the front exits.

Three deaths have been attributed to the storm.

A 45-year-old man was ejected from the 1997 Toyota 4Runner he was driving after he apparently lost control on an ice-covered overpass in Arlington, Texas, on Monday, police said. He died at a hospital.

On Monday night, a 49-year-old woman was killed when the 1997 Chevrolet Silverado she was driving struck a tree near Eldorado, Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The woman, identified as Sherry Lynn Taylor, lost control of the truck on icy roads and skidded, the department said.

In Austin, one person was dead after a weather-related multiple vehicle collision, according to Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.

“Pretty much all of the collisions that we are responding to right now are weather-related,” an Emergency Medical Services spokesperson said. “Basically, all of the elevated roadways and overpasses in the Austin and Travis County area are iced over.”

Dallas-Fort Worth set a daily record for snow accumulation Tuesday, with 1.3 inches of precipitation measured near the metropolis' main airport. The agency said the record was achieved by sleet, not snow, and maintained that counts as besting the 1.2 inches of snow measured Jan. 31, 1985.

The weather made air travel a slog.

National carriers based in the region posted cancellation numbers in the hundreds, with American Airlines racking up 591 for flights connected to its base of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Southwest Airlines canceling 287 related to its base of Dallas Love Field, according to the online flight tracker FlightAware.

A total of 1,035 cancellations were reported among flights arriving at or departing from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, according to the tracker. Nationwide, 1,961 domestic and international flights had been canceled by evening, its figures show.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned that freezing rain and ice may continue to slow flights at the Dallas-Fort Worth and Memphis airports.

As temperatures hovered in the 20s in parts of the state Tuesday evening, about 23,000 utility customers in Texas were without power, according to the energy grid tracker

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference that while some local outages are expected, there won’t be major issues with the power grid.

'Prolonged and significant' ice storm

The ice storm was expected to be "prolonged and significant" and to "continue impacting a large area from the southern Plains to the Tennessee Valley," according to the National Weather Service.

It said the "dangerous" ice storm is expected to continue into at least early Thursday, bringing cold air, freezing rain and sleet, along with travel chaos and delays.

"Widespread total ice accretion of greater than 0.25" is likely from West Texas to western Tennessee, with localized areas receiving as much as 0.75 inches, the weather service said. That amount of ice, it warned, could lead to hazardous travel conditions, along with tree damage and scattered power outages, across the hardest-hit regions.

Sleet accumulations around a half-inch or higher are also possible from West Texas to Arkansas, which the weather service said could lead to "treacherous" travel conditions.

"Patchy areas of sleet and freezing drizzle continue to move through North and Central Texas this afternoon," the weather service's office in Fort Worth tweeted Tuesday evening. "It is advised to stay off the roads during this event as conditions worsen."

Soldiers from the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade in Lowell, Ark., prepare as inclement weather bears down on the region Monday. (Arkansas National Guard)
Soldiers from the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade in Lowell, Ark., prepare as inclement weather bears down on the region Monday. (Arkansas National Guard)

The National Weather Service office that covers the Memphis area reported that "a thick glaze of ice" had covered both streets and vegetation in Bartlett, Tennessee, on Tuesday afternoon.

Ice storm warnings, winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories have been issued in affected areas, it said, warning travelers to check road conditions before they head out anywhere and to drive with extreme caution.

Hundreds of roads affected

Abbott said Tuesday that central, east and southeast Texas could even get flash flooding Wednesday and Thursday.

Abbott urged residents to avoid the roads because of the hazardous icing, adding that about 1,600 roads in the state have been affected.

"Because of the icing, many roads in Texas will remain very dangerous for the next 24 to 48 hours," he said. "Be cautious, especially for things like black ice."

In Fort Worth, the ambulance service MedStar responded to 151 motor vehicle crashes within 34 hours of the winter storm, spokesperson Matt Zavadsky said. Nineteen of the crashes were rollovers.

MedStar also responded to 13 patients with hypothermia. Twelve patients were taken to local hospitals with seven in serious condition. It also reported that 11 patients were injured slipping on ice.

Storm expected to head northeast

The storm moved in from the Pacific over the weekend and is headed in a northeastern direction, federal forecasters said. On Tuesday it produced a line of ice-cold precipitation and freeze warnings from West Texas to West Virginia.

A third round of icy precipitation was expected Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorologist Ted Ryan said.

By Thursday, it is expected to affect northwest Georgia, federal forecasters said.

The front has drawn arctic air from the north, which is helping it produce steady sleet and freezing rain. Temperatures were steady, too, as cloud cover insulated the weather at night.

Temperatures in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were expected to remain near their 20s daytime numbers, Ryan said.

“We’re having moisture from the arctic lifted over the shallow air mass and precipitating as this sleet and freezing rain mix,” he said.

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