4 dead as U.S. storms bring snow, ice and deep freeze

A late fall cold snap that has gripped much of the U.S. is being blamed for a handful of deaths and has forced people to deal with frigid temperatures, power outages by the thousands and treacherous roads.

Freezing tempertaures in normally sun-drenched California, Texas

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      A late fall cold snap that has gripped much of the U.S. is being blamed for a handful of deaths and has forced people to deal with frigid temperatures, power outages by the thousands and treacherous roads.

      Weather forecasters say the power weather system has Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic in its icy sights next.

      Temperatures in Montana and South Dakota were more than –29 C during the day Saturday while much of the Midwest was around minus 17 to minus 7 Celsius. Wind chill readings could drop as low as –46 C in northwestern Minnesota, weather officials said.

      Icy conditions were expected to last through the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee, and Virginia officials warned residents of a major ice storm likely to take shape Sunday, resulting in power outages and hazards on the roads.

      An sports utility vehicle sits crushed in a driveway from ice-covered tree limbs in Paris, Texas. (Sam Craft/The Paris News/Associated Press)

      In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay area and about a half-dozen traffic-related deaths were blamed on the weather in several states.

      About 75,000 customers in the Dallas area were without power Saturday, down from a peak of more than 270,000. Oklahoma utilities reported more than 7,500 power outages across the state and western Arkansas.

      Some 400 departing flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport were cancelled, about half of the usual schedule, the airport said. About 3,330 passengers had stayed overnight in the terminals.

      A treacherous section of icy Interstate 35 about 80 kilometres 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 Saturday. The backup sometimes extended for kilometres.

      Jody Gonzalez, chief of Denton County Emergency Services, said about 200 people were in shelters in the Sanger area after getting stuck on the highway. People in that area of I-35 were driving through ruts in 10-centimetre-thick ice, he said.

      Releford said road graders and more sand and salt trucks were being sent to try to ease the ice problems.

      "We're sending in everything we've got," said Releford

      'Historic ice event'

      Freezing rain and sleet are likely again Saturday night 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.

      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 Saturday. "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."

      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. However, the football game between Central Florida and Southern Methodist in ice-covered Dallas went on in front of a sparse crowd.

      Power outage could last for days

      Meanwhile, around 18 centimetres of snow fell in northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel, according to the National Weather Service in Memphis, and 20 to 23 centimetres fell in parts of southern Indiana. The storm dumped 30 centimetres 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.

      Ice accumulated on trees and power lines in Memphis and the rest of West Tennessee after layers of sleet fell throughout the region Friday but most roads were passable Saturday.

      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 –18 and –20 C may occur. Usually in the area, snowstorms are followed by fairly quick rebounds into warm weather, but not this time.

      Ice had built up on the windshields and roofs of parked cars throughout Memphis into Saturday. 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.


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