A pedestrian passes beneath a snow-covered tree on Oak Street in Eugene, Ore. on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Brian Davies)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Millions hunkered down for icy conditions expected to last through the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee as a cold snap covered much of the nation, knocking out power and making roads treacherous today.
Face-stinging sleet, thick snow and blustery winds led to slick road conditions, school closures and event cancellations as the wintry blast dropped temperatures to freezing and below overnight today.
A treacherous section of icy Interstate 35 about 50 miles north of Dallas has been closed intermittently for as long as five hours as tractor-trailers were unable to climb a hill and then clog the busy highway, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Releford said today. The backup can extend for miles.
Three traffic-related deaths were reported, one in Arlington and two in Oklahoma.
And about 117,000 customers in the Dallas area were without power early today and more than 350 departing flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had been cancelled in the morning, the airport said. About 3,330 passengers had stayed overnight in the terminals.
In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay Area while the region was gripped by freezing temperatures.
Freezing rain and sleet are likely again late today in Memphis, Nashville and other areas of Tennessee before the storm starts surging northeast.
“It looks like we’re going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days,” said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who was going home early to enjoy some bourbon-soaked sweet potatoes left over from Thanksgiving.
“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,” Chafetz said.
Virginia officials warned residents of a major ice storm likely to take shape Sunday, resulting in power outages and hazards on the roads.
State Department of 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.”
The weather forced the cancellation of Sunday’s Dallas Marathon, which was expected to draw 25,000 runners, some of whom had trained for months.
Meanwhile, around 7 inches of snow fell in northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel, according to the National Weather Service in Memphis. Ice accumulated on trees and power lines in Memphis and the rest of West Tennessee after layers of sleet fell throughout the region Friday. The weather service says 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.
Western and central Kentucky were under winter storm warnings slated to last through early today. With warmer temperatures expected in eastern Kentucky, forecasters issued a flood watch into today.
Looking ahead, the National Weather Service says a wind chill advisory is in effect for parts of northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel. Forecasters say wind chill readings between zero and minus-5 degrees may occur.
Delivery delays may occur in areas where the storm caused unsafe driving and flying conditions, said Scott Fielder, a spokesman for FedEx, which has its worldwide hub in Memphis.
Ice had built up on the windshields and roofs of parked cars throughout Memphis into today. Law enforcement reported an increase in traffic crashes, and scattered power outages affected more than 3,000 people, emergency and utility officials said.
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.
In Nashville, organizers canceled the Christmas parade. The annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon, scheduled for today, was canceled as well.
Sleet also fell in Dyer County, Tenn., where one shelter was on standby and farmers worked to protect crops and livestock.
“We’re still getting a lot of sleet falling and roads are slushy and kind of slick,” said James Medling, emergency management director for Dyer County.
Storms this week had already dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and draped many communities in skin-stinging cold. The temperature in parts of North Dakota on Thursday was a few degrees below zero, but wind chill pushed it to nearly 40 below.