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Brutal ice storm grips parts of Texas, Arkansas as it moves east

Disasters and AccidentsCommutingWinter Weather and BlizzardsPoliticsNational Weather ServiceRick Perry

HOUSTON -- An unseasonably early ice storm that has disrupted hundreds of flights, made for dangerous roads and caused power outages in central Arkansas and northern Texas was headed east toward Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Friday, with temperatures dipping dramatically and heavy snows expected across a wide swath of the nation.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared a statewide emergency, making it easier for crews to repair damage to trees and power lines, according to Tommy Jackson, spokesman for the state’s Department of Emergency Management.

Forecasters said central Arkansas was the hardest hit area Friday, with one death reported overnight in rural Pope County: A tree fell on a camper, killing the man who lived there, Jackson said.

“It’s the central third of the state, cutting a swath across the state -- that’s where the ice is. The northern third is snow,” Jackson said, adding that there was rain, sleet and slush to the south.

“The ice moved into central Arkansas right in the Little Rock area during the morning commute, which of course added to the misery,” he said.

Storm damage was also reported in Scott and Marion counties, he said.

“It’s power outages and accidents that we’re seeing now,” Jackson said.

In Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry issued an emergency proclamation ahead of the storm, the Dallas-Fort Worth area was hard hit, with highway closures, car crashes, widespread power outages and flight cancellations.

The storm brought sleet on top of ice to the area and further south, said Sgt. Lonny Haschel, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“It’s from Austin into the northeast, this storm is a monster,” Haschel said.

In downtown Fort Worth, a major highway interchange known as the Mixmaster was closed due to ice, which crews were treating with a mixture of salt and sand, he said.

"Until they can get that done, it will be tough to travel,” with cars losing traction and sliding off the highway, he said.

The nearby city of Arlington reported a storm-related traffic fatality overnight, he said, and the department was urging residents not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

“The majority of the crashes have been single vehicles that slid off the road,” he said.

The area is not unaccustomed to winter ice storms, but this one arrived unseasonably early, he said, catching some off-guard.

Haschel said temperatures were not expected to rise above freezing until Sunday.

“It’s going to be a slow melt for us up here,” he said.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport remained under a winter storm warning Friday with 330 flight cancellations, 40% of those scheduled, according to spokesman David Magana.

“The airlines are conducting de-icing operations for every departure. DFW airfield operations crews are monitoring the runways, ramps and taxiways on the airfield, which have been treated with de-icing agents,” Magana said.

An arctic air mass combined with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico was to blame for triggering the storm, more typical of January or February weather in the region, according to Mike Musher, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

“We’re seeing a 30-, 40-degree temperature change from yesterday at this time,” Musher said.

He said the ice and sleet in Arkansas and Texas were expected to spread up into Ohio and Indiana, with a band of snowfall stretching across northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. The storm is forecast to move into southern Illinois and Indiana and head into southern Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Friday night.

“The biggest concern right now is the ice. We’re talking about the southern tier of the country that doesn’t normally see this winter weather,” Musher said.

Most of southern Missouri was under winter-weather warnings Friday, with forecasters expecting up to 8 inches of snow by Friday night.

Also, Musher said, parts of Montana reported temperatures of 30 degrees below zero Friday. “We don’t see that extreme cold reaching Dallas or Chicago, but we’ll still see chilly temperatures,” into the weekend, he said.

The cold front was expected to reach the East Coast over the weekend, stretching from Atlanta to New York, with temperatures dropping Friday and Saturday, he said.

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Disasters and AccidentsCommutingWinter Weather and BlizzardsPoliticsNational Weather ServiceRick Perry
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