DALLAS — Temperatures in North Texas are not expected to rise above freezing Thursday, prompting concern over icy roadways and statewide energy conservation.
Moments before 5 p.m., The agency that regulates the state's energy grid asks residents to reduce electric use until noon on Friday. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported energy demand on Thursday morning reached 57,000 megawatts, short just 277 megawatts of setting a new demand record for a winter event.
"With the cold weather that began last night, we already saw electric demand close to our winter record this morning," Director Dan Woodfin said in a statement. "We are expecting cold weather to continue through tomorrow morning's high demand period and some generation capacity has become unavailable due to limitations to natural gas supplies."
The snow began falling in North Texas before dawn.
Total snowfall is expected to be around one inch for Dallas and Tarrant counties and up to two inches north and northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. News 8 meteorologist Greg Fields said temperatures will not reach 32 degrees until Friday, meaning the snow and ice is likely to stay.
According to Steve McCauley, another News 8 meteorologist, the snow clouds above the Dallas-Fort Worth area were abnormally large: 20,000 feet thick instead of the standard 10,000 feet thick. Snowflakes accumulated higher and floated down to the ground, where they settled.
These snowflakes, said McCauley, had a higher water content than a standard dusting of light snow. When cars drove over the snow, it melted and soon froze into sheets of ice.
"It was almost like having a freezing rain event," he said. "The powdery snow didn't happen. We had a relatively high water content in those snowflakes today, and those resulted in the slippery conditions we had."
Many residents in Jacksboro, located in Jack County, are without heat after Texas Gas shut off service to the entire city due to a problem with their main line, said City Manager Mike Smith. Warming stations were set up at the Twin Lakes Activity Center, FNB Scarborough Center and the Jack County Your Fair Barn. Stranded residents can request rides through the Sharp Van Lines at 800-633-0852.
Smith said it's unclear when gas service will be restored.
The primary concern for city and state agencies are side streets and neighborhood roads. High-traffic areas such as freeways will likely see the snow melt faster considering the volume of drivers.
Texas Department of Transportation staffers are dotted throughout the region monitoring road conditions, said Ryan LaFontaine, a spokesman.
"It seems like the snow is mostly blowing off the roads, so that's a good thing, but we're not letting up," he said. "We have runners and spotters out physically checking the bridges and overpasses and all of our roadways in the district."
He said TxDOT is running sand trucks in the northern sections of North Texas, particularly in Parker and Wise counties. He said crews are on standby with equipment to deice and treat frozen roads, should that become an issue.
"We're focused on the crews that we have here now, the equipment we have available to us and luckily, as of this moment, it does appear that it's at least forecasted to move out of here sometime around midday," LaFontaine said.
The city of Dallas activated its so-called Ice Force Level 1 overnight and bumped up the response to Level 2 at about 12:45 p.m. Dennis Ware, the department's interim director and the man in charge of the city's Ice Force response, said 70 trucks are sanding and treating 800 routes inside the city limits. The first level uses 30 trucks to sand 350 routes.
The Fort Worth Police Department said they were responding to 36 accidents at about 9:40 a.m. and estimated a total of 155 since midnight. The Fort Worth Independent School District announced it would release high schoolers at noon, the middle schools at 1:15 p.m. and elementary schools at 2:25 p.m.
"The reason for letting everybody go early is so they're off the roads when there is a lesser amount of traffic," said district spokesman Clint Bond. "And when we did make that decision we didn't know if the snow was going to continue."
The Lewisville Independent School District also released its students early. Dallas and Denton ISDs have canceled after school activities. Dallas ISD did not cancel school.
The National Weather Service extended a winter weather advisory for Wise, Denton, Collin and Parker counties until 2 p.m.
Planes were de-iced at both Dallas-Love Field and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, according to airport spokespeople. The weather has forced D/FW to cancel 200 departures, about 20 percent of the day's schedule. D/FW spokespersons Cynthia Vega said roads in and around the airport are passable as of Thursday night, but road conditions will worsen throughout the night and into Friday morning.
Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said 150 arrivals and departures were impacted because of the de-icing, the majority of which are American Eagle flights.
A light snow started to fall at about 6 a.m. in the Parker County area and traveled to the Dallas area just before 8 a.m. Just after 8 a.m., the snow was falling across most of North Texas.
Meteorologist Greg Fields warned drivers to stay cautious on the roads, especially in Parker, Wise and Denton counties.
"They are slick and visibility is not good," said Erin Twitty Johnson, a Dallas resident, of road conditions.
At about 6:15 a.m., wind chills in areas west of Dallas-Fort Worth were below zero. In Vernon, about three hours northwest of Dallas, the wind chill was -3 degrees.
The light snow began to taper off and moved east at about 2 p.m. Temperatures will rose to a high of 29º, but will dip into the teens Thursday evening.