Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on two Kentucky highways as a massive snow and ice storm stretching from Texas to the East Coast wreaked havoc in many states Thursday, canceling flights, closing down Washington, D.C., and promising record low temperatures in many cities overnight.
Nearly 2 feet of snow has been dumped on Kentucky since Wednesday afternoon, said Kevin Deitsch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville. Lexington broke a snowfall record with 17.1 inches Thursday.
Some of the heaviest snowfall occurred near the heavily traveled Interstate 65, which runs through Louisville, and state police were working to rescue more than 100 vehicles trapped in the snow, said Kentucky State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Webb.
Lindsey Berry and her boyfriend, Hunter Lucas, were among those trapped.
The Western Kentucky University students had finished their last chemistry test on Wednesday night, and immediately hopped into Lucas' Ford Escape, ready for a family-oriented spring break.
They didn't get far.
The pair drove onto Interstate 65 at 6:30 p.m., and by 9:30 p.m., traffic had come to a complete stop.
"It's been interesting, to say the least," said Berry, 21.
Berry and Lucas, 19, were stranded near an exit for Upton, about 70 miles south of Louisville. Normally, this exit would mean they were about 20 minutes away from Berry's home. But it might as well have been 20 hours.
Berry said they ate Cheez-Its and cereal bars they had in the car. Rescue workers came by twice on Thursday to give out crackers, apples, cereal bars and water.
To pass the time, they called their families, chatted with friends on their smartphones and tried to nap, though Berry said the stress made it hard to sleep.
They conserved gas during the day when it was warm, and as the sun set, they turned on the car to get heat, Berry said.
The roadway was finally opened around 7 p.m. Thursday, and traffic began moving in southbound lanes, said Corey Wright, dispatcher with the Kentucky State Police at Post 4 in Elizabethtown.
"We're really starting to get exhausted," Berry said just before the road was reopened. "We both want to shower and sleep and eat something with substance to it."
An additional 400 vehicles became trapped in snow on Interstate 24 near Paducah, close to the Illinois border, beginning about 2 a.m. Thursday, Webb said. Emergency crews had freed about half of those cars by midday, and one westbound lane was opened so that freed vehicles could leave the area, he said.
At 9 p.m. Thursday, Interstate 24 was a parking lot filled with abandoned cars. Drivers were evacuated from their vehicles and put in local hotels, while crews have continued to tow cars off the road, said Kim Newsome, dispatcher for the Kentucky State Police in Mayfield.
Interstate 24 is passable in some places, but state police have asked drivers to stay off the road, she said. Officials are not sure when the highway will be completely open again, Newsome said.
State police were going car to car on some stretches of highway, handing out food and water to drivers. They also opened temporary emergency shelters and warming areas for stranded drivers.
“There is no travel unless absolutely necessary,” Webb said. “The only people that should be on the road should be emergency personnel and first responders.”
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency Thursday morning and warned residents of poor driving conditions.
“The potential for hazardous travel is high, because the rain prevents road crews from pretreating highways with brine," Beshear said. "Stay tuned to local weather forecasts and make sure your home is stocked with emergency supplies.”
Forecasts called for record cold Friday in some locations from Texas to Massachusetts, the National Weather Service reported.
In Texas, parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area saw record snowfall of as much as 7 inches. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, a major hub for American Airlines, received 3.5 inches of snow, breaking a record that had been in place since the 1940s. About 275 flight departures have been canceled, according to airport officials.
At Ft. Hood near Killeen, Texas, about 150 miles south of Dallas, power outages were reported due to icy conditions.
"It's going to be a really slow-go throughout the day here and across much of the state," said Dennis Cavanaugh, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Dallas. "But later in the day the sun will be out and we expect things to dry out."
Cavanaugh said he expected this to be the last significant winter weather of the season in Dallas and much of the nation.
In Washington, federal offices were closed Thursday as a new round of snow hit the nation's capital. Public schools in the city were closed as rain and sleet turned to snow about 8 a.m. About 3 to 7 inches of snow were expected in the Washington area, according to the National Weather Service.
In New England, more snow could fall in Boston, where weather watchers waited to see whether this winter's snowfall would set a record. Boston has had 105.7 inches so far this season, about 2 inches below the record of 107.6 inches.