Sleet, ice, deep-freeze hit large swath of U.S.
RICHMOND, Va. – A winter storm delivered a sloppy smorgasbord of snow, freezing rain and sleet to the southern Mid-Atlantic region and other states Sunday, with parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey seeing more than 3 inches of accumulation, making driving dangerous for millions of residents nationwide.
The slow-moving storm prompted officials in Virginia, parts of Maryland and other states to urge residents to stay off the roads and forced scattered airport delays. In Wisconsin, there were several vehicle pileups due to snow and dangerous road conditions, with one fatal interstate rollover.
In Pennsylvania, the snow wreaked havoc on the turnpike and covered the football fields of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles in white.
Paul Jones, 24, a youth hockey coach from Warminster in the Philadelphia suburbs, was on his way to a game in Lancaster when he got stuck – along with his fiance, another coach and three players – in a major backup on the turnpike.
The roadway was “snow-covered, slick,” Jones said in an interview from the car, where he was a passenger and had been at a standstill for more than an hour.
“People are in and out” of their vehicles, he said. “Kids are having a snowball fight on the side of the road, making snow angels, people are walking their dogs.”
The National Weather Service said the high pressure system from North Carolina north to New England is being fed by disturbances from the southwest and moist air off the Atlantic.
“This is not one big storm but a couple storms lined up side by side,” meteorologist Kevin Witt said. “That’s just a recipe for winter precipitation.”
The forecast called for the wintry mix to continue through Sunday, turning to rain early today. Total snow accumulation in southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey were expected to reach six inches.
Virginia, parts of West Virginia and the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area braced for blackouts under steady freezing rain, wet snow and sleet.
Parts of northwest and southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia were getting snow, while sleet and freezing rain prevailed west and north of Richmond.
“We’re actually getting something of everything,” said meteorologist Anita Silverman in the Blacksburg, Va., office of the National Weather Service.
The snow was heavier than forecast in Maryland, falling at a rate of an inch an hour in parts of the state at midday. Accumulation of five inches was been reported in Carroll County, northwest of Baltimore.
In the Washington area, airports reported scattered delays. Airport officials advised travelers to call ahead.
In North Texas, bitter cold settled in Sunday after sleet, snow and ice had pelted the region. About 400 departures from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were canceled Sunday. On Interstate 35 north of Dallas, graders with blades to break up thick ice were brought in. The area was expected to see temperatures slightly above freezing Sunday, with a bit of sunshine, but it will likely still be a couple of days before the ice that has coated the region is gone.
Forecasters said the potent system already caused numerous power outages and thousands of weekend flight cancellations elsewhere.
Icy conditions were expected to last through the rest of the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee. And officials warned that a major ice storm was possible in Virginia’s Appalachian region along the busy Interstate 81 corridor.
Forecasters said motorists traveling I-81 between Roanoke, Va., and Hagerstown, Md., should be on the lookout for any deterioration in conditions.
“We are encouraging people to stay off the roads,” said Tamara Rollison of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
State Emergency Management spokeswoman Laura Southard said the storm had the potential to be a “historic ice event” in Virginia.
“I’ve worked multiple disasters, but I’ve never worked an ice storm with a forecast like this,” she said. “It’s just really important for everybody to take extra precautions.”
Southard said many people had heeded warnings to stay at home, and that was still the message. “We’re not out of this thing yet,” she said.
Dominion Virginia Power, the state’s largest utility, said the storm could knock down tree limbs and power lines and it had company trucks “stocked and fueled” and crews ready to respond. Only several hundred outages were reported midday Sunday.
Forecasters said the storm caused freezing rain and icy conditions in parts of Tennessee as it surged across that state late Saturday and early Sunday.
Bob Nations Jr., director of the emergency operations command center for the Memphis area, said early Sunday that ice coating roads, bridges and overpasses caused several multivehicle crashes. He issued a statement urging drivers to use extreme caution, particularly on bridges and overpasses.
“It looks like we’re going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days,” said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who tried to get off the roads before the worst of the storm hit. “I’m not afraid of the ice and snow. I’m afraid of the other drivers who don’t know how to drive in it.”
In Kentucky, a wintry weather advisory was likely to remain in effect for most of the state until late afternoon. Weather officials predict temperatures will get above freezing around that time.
In Texas earlier, icy and treacherous sections of Interstate 35 north of Dallas were closed for hours at a time after tractor-trailers had trouble climbing hills, wrecks occurred and vehicles stalled, authorities said.
Tina Pacheco, her husband and two friends were traveling through Texas on their way to Mexico when the ice-laden interstate became so treacherous that traffic came to a standstill. They were forced to spend Friday night in their pickup truck, which they kept running for heat.
“We couldn’t go anywhere,” she said, adding, “It’s a good thing we had gas.”
The weather forced the cancellation of countless events, including Sunday’s Dallas Marathon and the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis.
Around seven inches of snow fell in northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel, according to the National Weather Service in Memphis, and 8 to 9 inches fell in parts of southern Indiana. The storm dumped a foot of snow and more in some areas of Illinois, with police scrambling to respond to dozens of accidents and forced scores of schools to remain closed.
Residents were told to prepare for a few days without power, prompting them to rush to stores to stock up on groceries, buy electricity generators and gas up their cars. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell reminded residents to check on family and friends who are elderly, disabled or live alone.