DALLAS (AP) — As snow and freezing rain blanketed normally sun-swept North Texas, residents accustomed to warmer temperatures appeared to heed warnings on what one hardware store manager called "Ice Friday," staying off nearly impassable roadways and out of the skin-stinging cold.
Earlier this week, many in Texas were basking in spring-like temperatures that hit the 80s. But by Thursday, Texas was facing the same wintry blast that has slammed much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.
Freezing rain started to pelt highways and power lines Thursday evening, leaving a quarter-million customers without electricity Friday morning. Schools canceled classes a day before, many businesses gave workers the day off, and frigid roads and sidewalks were mostly empty. Organizers of Sunday's Dallas Marathon canceled the event early Friday afternoon.
Bundled up against the elements, Matthew Johnson was one of the few people braving the cold Friday. "We're going to walk the dog and have fun outside, I guess," said Johnson, standing near his home in the Dallas suburb of Richardson.
Agencies and residents here are still haunted by the fiasco of a frozen Super Bowl week two years ago, when an inadequate response to a winter storm crippled the region and left visitors stranded on impassable highways.
This time, all of North Texas mobilized before an expected half-inch of freezing rain began to come down. Temperatures are forecast to stay below freezing after the rain passes, meaning residents will have to contend with icy roads through the weekend.
One Home Depot in Dallas was running out of firewood and ice melt a day early. "It's almost like a Black Friday," said store manager James McGilberry, "but I guess we'll call it an Ice Friday." Road crews were continuously dumping sand on largely empty highways, and utility company Oncor reported 250,000 customers were without power in the Dallas area, where temperatures had fallen into the 20s and some places saw light snow.
The weather forced more than 1,000 cancelations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the nation's busiest airports and a key hub for Fort Worth-based American Airlines. Many travelers were stuck waiting and hoping for another flight to take them to their destination. Those arriving in North Texas were having trouble finding cabs as many drivers stayed home. Dallas-area light rail trains were not running.
"I don't let things like this stop me," said Dayo Bankale, a taxi driver at the airport Friday. "I'm not scared." Rosibel Gutierrez Artavia, shivering in a light sweater as she waited for a taxi, had traveled from Alajuela, Costa Rica, to suburban Fort Worth to see family. Relatives called her before she left Costa Rica to warn her to pack warm. But she got the call when she was already at the airport.
"I did not come prepared with snow clothes," Artavia said in Spanish. But she was still thankful that the weather didn't prevent her from boarding a flight that got her from Houston to North Texas and close to her family.
"I prayed to God and He listened to me," she said. The National Weather Service issued winter storm and ice warnings through much of Friday for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee. Some parts of the Midwest expected to see several inches of snow. The storm stretched from South Texas, where anxious residents bagged outdoor plants to protect them from the cold, up into northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
Cold weather has already dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and draped many communities in skin-stinging cold. The temperature in parts of North Dakota on Thursday was a few degrees below zero, but wind chill pushed it to nearly 40 below.
In West Texas, many truckers had already pulled off Interstate 27 on Thursday, said Leilani Pierce, a manager at a Flying J Travel Plaza in Lubbock. Students at Oklahoma State University were evicted by school officials from a makeshift tent community they set up ahead of Saturday's rivalry football game against the University of Oklahoma. Debbie McCarthy, the university's athletics coordinator of special events, told the Tulsa World that officials were worried about propane heaters starting a fire.
The city of St. Louis opened its first cold-weather shelter of the season and warned residents to dress in layers inside and outside if need be. A winter storm system swept through the Plains Thursday and dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It forced cancellations in places far more accustomed to snow: Officials in Rapid City, S.D., said the weather was too cold for ice skating, and temperatures in Montana and Idaho fell below minus 25 degrees.
Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd, Terry Wallace and David Warren in Dallas; Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas; John L. Mone in Richardson, Texas; Kristi Eaton in Oklahoma City' James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D.; Scott Mayerowitz in New York; Michelle Rindels in Grapevine, Texas; Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston; and Jim Salter in St. Louis, Mo., contributed to this report.