Ice, snow wreak havoc from Texas to New England

By Jim Salter

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 1 2011 10:45 a.m. MST

Steam from his breath surrounds his head as Noah Koolik,, freshman in international affairs, walks across campus on the way to class at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., Feb. 1, 2011. A high of around zero degrees is expected in the Denver Metro area on Tuesday.

Daily Camera, Mark Leffingwell, Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Layers of dangerous ice and blowing snow closed roads and airports from Texas to Rhode Island on Tuesday as a monster storm began bearing down on the nation and those in its frigid path started to believe it would live up to its hype.

The storm's more than 2,000-mile reach threatened to leave about a third of the nation covered in a hodge-podge of harsh weather. Ice fell first and was expected to be followed by up to two feet of snow in some places. Storm-battered New England towns feared they wouldn't have anywhere to put it.

Making matters worse was the expectation of brutal cold and winds gusting to near 60 mph.

As truck driver David Peck waited outside to deliver food to a Missouri restaurant whose owners were nowhere to be seen, he implored his boss on the other end of the phone to shut down the route.

"By the time I go to Columbia, all hell broke loose," said Peck, 51.

"I've already fell once, right on my back," he said, standing atop an ice- and snow-covered ramp propped on the back of his truck. "There was black ice underneath the snow."

Snow and ice fell to varying degrees from Colorado to Maine, tornadoes were possible in the South, and the weather disrupted the lives of millions. Multiple airports were at least temporarily shut down due to ice, including in Dallas — the destination for thousands trying to get to Sunday's Super Bowl.

Flight tracking service FlightAware had logged almost 6,000 cancellations by midday Tuesday. More were expected Wednesday.

White-outs paralyzed Oklahoma City and the Tulsa area, where snowpack caused the partial collapse of a roof at the Hard Rock Casino but no injuries were reported. Blowing snow created drifts up to 4 feet high and trucks, city buses, snowplows and at least one ambulance had trouble navigating the treacherous roadways.

Tulsa coffee shop owner Brian Franklin said he spent most of the morning watching people on the roads, even laughing at those trying to turn into the store's parking lot. He made it to work in his four-wheel drive Land Rover, but it was a slippery commute.

"After I got out in it, I saw a fire truck with snow chains get stuck, and I wondered if it was a good idea to be driving in this," he said.

Ice-covered roads were all but deserted in Dallas, where the few motorists who braved the unfamiliar terrain slowed to a crawl as they passed jack-knifed tractor-trailers on slick highways. But the NFL stuck to its Super Bowl schedule, holding media activities at Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington as planned.

Still, pedestrians struggled as they shuffled along sidewalks — a common problem even hundreds of miles away.

"I think it's crazy the people not putting salt on the sidewalks," said Hagerstown, Md., call center worker Kelly Rataiczak, who slipped several times — but didn't fall — as she made her way from her overnight shift to a bus stop.

Massive amounts of ice were predicted south of St. Louis, followed by strong winds, could cause a repeat of 2006 when ice then brought down trees and transmission lines and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people in Missouri.

St. Louis-based utility company AmerenUE said lessons were learned. Chip Webb, superintendent of reliability support services, said the company has significantly increased efforts to trim trees near power lines, put more power lines underground and inspect and replace more aging poles.

On Tuesday Ameren had nearly 500 of its own linemen ready to go and was bringing in another 800 from as far away as Michigan.

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