There were reports of some folks sleeping in their cars overnight in North Texas, not so much because of the accumulation of frozen precipitation, but the number of accidents caused by icy conditions, snarling traffic for hours.
Schools across North and Central Texas have announced closures due to the low temperatures, and many radar models suggest it’s going to get worse as the day progresses Tuesday. There are storm warnings and travel advisories across much of the state.
The potential for a major ice storm was increasing as of Tuesday morning with possible damage to vegetation and the power infrastructure, especially in the Hill Country and Big Country in North Texas. Some forecast models suggest a 10% chance of a catastrophic ice storm in terms of impact on infrastructure.
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Victor Murphy, the climate service program manager for the Weather Service’s Southern region, said the storm is being caused by a very shallow layer of cold air pushed southward out of Canada.
“The cold air extends up in the atmosphere only about, say, between 3,000 to 5,000 feet. Once you get to about the 5,000 to 7,000-foot level, temperatures are actually 50 degrees, if you can believe that,” he said. “So you got this real shallow cold air layer beneath that. So when the precipitation falls, it turns into sleet or it ends up as freezing rain.”
Murphy said the freezing rain is worse for the power lines than sleet, because freezing rain is more likely to bring down tree limbs or the lines themselves. However, he said any power outages in Texas this week will likely be localized because of power line damage, rather than being grid-related.
Murphy cautioned Texans to stay off the road in areas affected by the storm.
“Unless you absolutely have to be on the road, today is not the day to be on the road in Texas, where temperatures are below freezing right now. The freezing line runs from about Texarkana to College Station to San Antonio to about the Del Rio area. Anywhere north of that line right now, temperatures are subfreezing,” he said. “Your car might or your vehicle might be okay, but a lot of 18 wheelers cannot make it up these hills or these inclines. They get stuck next to, you know, you have a five- or ten-mile logjam of cars or vehicles stuck behind another vehicle. So, yes, definitely do not go anywhere.”
If you absolutely have to be on the road, Murphy said to pack food and warm clothes in case you get stuck.
Murphy said Houston should be spared from the worst of the freeze, with temperatures in the mid-30s. The worst of the weather is likely to hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he said.
“San Antonio temps should be right at freezing. I think San Antonio will have more of a problem with overpasses, perhaps, and elevated freeways,” he said. “The Austin area is going to get hit pretty hard with some freezing rain accumulations today and tonight into tomorrow morning. DFW should be ground zero, unfortunately.”