Sleet, light snow sweeping Dallas-Fort Worth, but much worse expected
This story will be updated throughout the day.
Sleet and light snow arrived Sunday in North Texas ahead of what is expected to be one of the worst winter storms on record.
When the first flurries rolled into Dallas-Fort Worth about 4 a.m., the National Weather Service called it “the ‘appetizer’ round with the ‘entree’ coming later this afternoon and tonight.”
By 6 a.m. in some parts of the region, a thin layer of snow had begun to collect on roads, roofs and lawns. Heavier snow began to fall later in the day, but by the evening the storm still had a long ways to go to add up the 7 inches forecasters said could be expected. Some areas farther north and west of Dallas-Fort Worth were warned they could see snowfall totals over 10 inches.
The snow was expected to be light and fluffy, but with the wind blowing it around it could drastically limit visibility, Weather Service meteorologist Juan Hernandez said.
“White-out to near white-out conditions will make any travel very difficult, if not impossible,” Hernandez said.
Traffic on highways across North Texas slowed to a crawl as even the morning’s light dusting caused poor road conditions.
Throughout the week, TxDOT treated roads with a brine used to lower the freezing point of water. The department said that though the brine wouldn’t keep driving surfaces from freezing in the temperatures as low as those that have been forecast, it can help roads “get back to normal sooner” after the storm.
Although there were scattered reports of traffic accidents throughout the area, with many people free to stay off the roads Sunday, the flurries provided an opportunity for sledding and building snowmen, But the seriousness of the conditions could be seen in the setbacks through North Texas and beyond
DFW International Airport had recorded only 0.09 inch of snow by 6 p.m., but hundreds of flights there and at Love Field were canceled because of the severity of the forecast.
All 254 counties affected
With wintry weather expected across the state, Texans from El Paso to Houston were under a winter storm warning.
“In my 45 years of covering Texas weather, I don’t remember ever seeing all 254 counties in the state under a winter storm warning,” KXAS-TV (NBC5) meteorologist David Finfrock said on Twitter.
The winter storm warning for North Texas was set to expire at 9 a.m. Monday. But with wind chills expected to drop to as low as -20 degrees Monday and -15 degrees Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning for all of Dallas-Fort Worth and surrounding areas until noon Tuesday.
A wind chill warning has never been issued for North Texas, Weather Service meteorologist Lamont Bain.
“Extreme wind chills as low as 20 below zero will become life-threatening to people and animals outside without adequate warmth or shelter,” the warning said. “The cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.”
The storm prompted officials in Houston to urge people to prepare for power outages and hazardous roads that could be similar to those in the wake of a Category 5 hurricane.
As rain fell Sunday in the Houston area, the temperature hovered near freezing.
“This rain will be transitioning over to just freezing rain, sleet and snow during the overnight through early morning hours tomorrow,” Weather Service meteorologist Josh Lichter said.
According to Austin-Travis County EMS, many roads were impassible, with officials using fire department vehicles and 4x4s to reach people who were calling 911. In Amarillo, the temperature was -1 degrees with a wind chill of -25 degrees, according to the Weather Service.
The governor issued a statewide disaster declaration Friday, and the state’s Transportation, Public Safety and Military department and other agencies have been deployed to respond to the storm.
The White House also issued a federal emergency declaration for the state, and Gov. Greg Abbott, who requested the declaration Saturday, thanked President Joe Biden.
”This disaster declaration provides Texas with additional resources and assistance that will help our communities respond to this winter weather,” Abbott said in a written statement.
Abbott also activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.
By early Sunday afternoon, the Texas Highway Patrol had reported several multi-car pileups in West Texas, including one that involved 25 vehicles and shut down a portion of westbound Interstate 20.
Officials ask residents to conserve energy
State officials have urged people to conserve energy to help prevent overwhelming the power supply as the demand for heating skyrockets.
“Power in the state of Texas will be very stressed,” Gov. Greg Abbott warned at a news conference.
Public Utility Commission Chair DeAnn Walker said the state isn’t able to add capacity, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid, said Sunday that electric use could overwhelm the state’s power grid, which could prompt rotating power outages.
“We ask that everyone start conserving energy Sunday through Tuesday,” Walker said.
Conservation tips include setting thermostats to 68 degrees or lower, closing shades and blinds, and unplugging nonessential appliances such as toasters.
By 6 p.m., multiple power outages were reported throughout the area. Oncor reported 813 outages throughout the state, with more than 28,000 customers affected.
Officials also urged residents to avoid using generators inside homes, warning of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
At least one Tarrant County resident had been treated for potential carbon monoxide exposure, according to MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky.
Generators should only be used more than 20 feet away from homes, he said.
Closures, cancellations and delays
Dallas County Health and Human Services said its COVID-19 vaccination location at Fair Park will be closed Monday beccause of the severe weather.
Parkland Memorial Hospital said its vaccine locations at Ellis Davis Field House and Eastfield Community College in Mesquite will be closed through Tuesday, and vaccination and outpatient clinics at Parkland Memorial Hospital will be closed Monday. Patients will be contacted by Parkland to reschedule vaccine appointments.
Parkland’s COVID-19 testing sites at Sam Tasby Middle School in Dallas, the Irving Health Center and the West Dallas Multipurpose Center are closed through Tuesday. Regular hours will resume Wednesday.
Collin County said its vaccine hub at John Clark Stadium would be closed through Tuesday. No appointments will be scheduled on those days, the county said.
Tarrant County was closing its testing sites through Monday.
Major grocery retailers haven’t changed hours significantly but say they are monitoring the weather and will adjust hours if needed.
Customers started stocking up over the weekend but stores were prepared for the weather-driven buying, Kroger spokeswoman April Martin said.
Malls expect to be open, but many of the individual stores may not open Monday and didn’t open Sunday. It’s an untimely storm for retailers, who probably would have seen some last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers and customers looking for President’s Day promotions.
Many massive manufacturing plants, such as Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth F-35 production facility, will open for work Monday but are being more lenient with employees who may not feel safe driving in snow and ice.
The factory has more than 16,000 employees.
“Our Lockheed Martin operations in Fort Worth will be fully open,” said Lockheed Martin spokesman Kenneth Boss. “As is customary with inclement weather, we encourage our employees to use their personal judgment when considering whether or not to come to work.”
The General Motors Assembly plant in Arlington, which employs about 4,000 people, was cancelling its overnight shift and potentially its morning shift as well.
Downtown Dallas Inc. spokesman Scott Goldstein said the organization suspended its security and cleaning operations Sunday and Monday, and will finance more off-duty police officers for downtown businesses those days.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit announced it would suspend rail services starting at 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. DART busses will operate on a Saturday schedule and more shuttle buses will be available. Details can be found at dart.org/winterweather.
A second snowstorm
Sunday’s storm could turn out to be a preview of more to come.
North Texas could see a second winter storm after Monday, adding more snow to whatever is already on the ground, according to Sarah Barnes, a Weather Service meteorologist.
“By Tuesday afternoon, some snow will arrive along the Red River with wintry weather overspreading the entire area by Tuesday night,” she said in a forecast update. “While the track of this system still has the potential to shift either east or west, it’s quite likely that much of North Texas will see another several inches of snow with the greatest totals along the Red River.”
Temperatures are expected to stay below freezing most of this week, but relief is on the way. By Friday, North Texas could see temperatures rise above freezing with sunny skies, Barnes said.
“This should allow much of the ice and snow to melt on Friday,” she said. “Temperatures will gradually increase as we head into early next week, rising back to normal values and finally providing some relief from this bitter cold spell.”
The Associated Press and staff writers Kyle Arnold, Maria Halkias and Dom DiFurio contributed to this report.