Sleet, ice, deep-freeze hit large swath of US
WASHINGTON — A powerful storm system that spread hazardous snow, sleet and freezing rain widely across the nation's midsection rumbled toward the densely populated Eastern seaboard on Sunday, promising more of the same.
Forecasters said the potent system already blamed for numerous power outages and thousands of weekend flight cancellations elsewhere, has Virginia and other Mid-Atlantic states in its icy sights before the Northeast is up next.
Icy conditions were expected to last through the rest of the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee. And officials warned a major ice storm was possible in Virginia's Appalachian region along the busy Interstate 81 corridor .
In Virginia, state Emergency Management spokeswoman Laura Southard said the storm had the potential to be a "historic ice event."
"This forecast is very concerning to us," Southard said. "I've worked multiple disasters, but I've never worked an ice storm with a forecast like this. It's just really important for everybody to take extra precautions."
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. It also has been blamed for plunging temperatures as a cold front sweeps down from the North on the jet stream.
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 multi-vehicle crashes. He issued a statement urging drivers to use extreme caution, particularly on bridges and overpasses.
Police in Memphis, meanwhile, urged motorists to stay home altogether if they could avoid travel early Sunday.
Ice had built up on the windshields and roofs of parked cars throughout Memphis during the day Saturday. Law enforcement reported an increase in traffic crashes, and scattered power outages affected more than 3,000 people, emergency and utility officials said.
"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."
Forecasters said motorists traveling Interstate 81 between Roanoke, Va., and Hagerstown, Md., should be on the lookout Sunday for any deterioration in conditions like that in Texas when the storm crossed parts of that state Friday and Saturday.
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."
Ice up to 4 inches thick was reported on one interstate in Texas at the height of the storm there. And about 75,000 customers in the Dallas area went without power for a time Saturday, down from a peak of more than 270,000 earlier. Oklahoma utilities reported more than 7,500 power outages across the state and western Arkansas.
The weather forced the cancellation of countless events, including Sunday's Dallas Marathon, which was expected to draw 25,000 runners, some of whom had trained for months, and the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, expected to include 20,000.
Around 7 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.