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U.S. ice storm causes blackouts, delays in Texas, Arkansas

Source: Reuters - Sun, 8 Dec 2013 01:12 AM
Author: Reuters
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(Updates with fresh quotes, color)

By Jana J. Pruet

DALLAS, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Freezing weather gripped parts of the United States on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of people in Texas and Arkansas coping in the cold without power after a winter storm made roads impassable and caused severe flight delays.

The Arctic chill was so pervasive that even Las Vegas may see snowy showers before the weekend is out, forecasters said. The coast-to-coast cold wave was predicted to spread eastward to Virginia and up to New England on Sunday through Monday.

"What's happening across most of the country is we're getting a very early taste of winter," Mike Muscher, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said. "This is something you'd typically see in January or February."

A record-low temperature for Dec. 7 - 42 degrees below zero (-41 C) - was recorded in Jordan, Montana.

More than 3,300 travelers were forced to sleep on cots overnight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where airlines canceled more than 400 flights.

Nearly a thousand flights were canceled on Friday.

Among the stranded travelers were Brenda and Doug Jones, who live in a Dallas suburb and had planned to travel to Aruba for their honeymoon.

After 14 hours waiting at the airport, they opted to go home. They said they found most people at the airport were in good spirits despite the conditions, cancellations and crowds.

"People were trying to help each other out," Brenda Jones said.

At the height of the storm, some 267,000 electricity outages were reported in Texas, according to utility provider Oncor. That number was down to about 75,000 late on Saturday, and Oncor said it hoped to restore power to "nearly all" of its customers by Sunday night.

Larry Thompson and his wife, Jessica, both nurses at Dallas-area hospitals, headed to a local hotel with their four young children after losing power at home.

"I couldn't even warm a bottle," Thompson said.

"Everything is slick," he said. "The kids were holding hands and they're falling down, and I'm trying to hold the baby. I don't have enough hands."

Forecasters predicted sub-freezing temperatures and icy conditions in the region for the rest of the weekend, with sleet and layers of ice up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) thick around Dallas. Roads and driveways were blocked by fallen limbs from trees heavy with ice.

The city canceled a marathon planned for Sunday.

A marathon for Saturday was canceled in Memphis, Tennessee, due to icy conditions and the danger of falling tree limbs, organizers said.

Streets were an icy and slushy mess across the region, and at least three people were killed when their cars skidded off the road, authorities said. In Fort Worth, traffic ground to a halt on several major highways because of wrecks that blocked icy roads.

The frigid air was due to roll into the northeast Sunday through Monday. Accuweather predicted a "wintry mess" of ice, freezing rain and the season's first snow accumulations from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

The cold weather system will leave the East Coast over Monday night, the National Weather Service said. (Writing by Jonathan Allen and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Jackie Frank)

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