Freezing rain and frigid temperatures pummeled much of the country Friday, wreaking havoc in North Texas but largely sparing Central Texas from icy conditions.
The frigid cold front, which came just days after the area saw temperatures in the 80s, forced late starts at most Austin-area school districts, the University of Texas, some city offices and for nonessential operations at Fort Hood.
The National Weather Service forecast that highs this weekend will hover around freezing Saturday with a slight warm-up Sunday. However, meteorologists projected a 20 percent chance of drizzle that could turn into freezing rain or sleet Saturday night and Sunday morning.
The lone serious injury reported as a result of the cold snap here Friday was in a wooded area in Southeast Austin, where fire officials said a woman was critically injured when a heating source caused a tent to catch fire at a homeless camp.
Areas northwest of Austin saw the bulk of the hazardous road conditions Friday, with several road closures and multiple car accidents along highway flyovers and bridges vulnerable to slippery conditions. Icing was reported along the Texas 45 tollway near MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) with 30 stranded cars, including first-responder vehicles, Round Rock police officials said. The agency said Friday afternoon that it had responded to 25 wrecks since 2:30 a.m., including at least four on the Texas 45 tollway near Interstate 35.
Austin police responded to 23 wrecks in Austin over a similar time period, a noticeable increase over a typical day, a department spokeswoman said.
Cedar Park and Leander police reported five crashes in the morning on 183-A tollway ramps.
David Almanza, 42, of Cedar Park, was one of those unlucky drivers caught in a morning wreck near the 183-A and Texas 45 tollways. He was stranded in 30-degree weather on a nearby shoulder after he struck ice and crashed his sedan near the edge of a flyover.
“The slick ramp just reached out and bit me,” Almanza said while waiting for a tow truck. “It really wasn’t slick until I got here. It was just like a rainy Friday.”
Friday’s storm stretched from South Texas, where anxious residents bagged outdoor plants to protect them from the cold, through the Midwest and Ohio Valley and up into New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
The weather forced more than 1,000 flight cancellations 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.
Trouble there forced nearly 20 cancellations at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, mainly American Airlines flights to and from DFW.
While freezing rain and sleet built up on many of North Texas’ highways and created what one retailer dubbed “Ice Friday” as residents cleared grocery and hardware store shelves and then hunkered down in preparation of a weekend of continued icy weather, many Austin area residents were able to avoid mishaps with a little caution.
Local authorities reported rush-hour traffic lighter than usual Friday. One reason was that many employers, anticipating icy conditions, told workers to stay home or work remotely. The result: Neighborhood coffee shops were doing a booming business, many packed with people working at tables and on stools.
“With a laptop and a cell, you’ve got an office,” said Renita Knight, an accountant who was working at a Starbucks coffee shop off of U.S. 183, instead of her office in Central Austin. “I’m getting my work done and don’t have to fight the traffic today.”
At a nearby table, engineers Tim Keller and Griff Montgomery were looking over project drawings that they were scheduled to peruse in Austin, but rescheduled to a site closer to their homes because of the weather.
“We didn’t know how bad it was going to be, so we decided to meet out here,” Montgomery said. “Since the weather’s not really that bad, I’ll probably go on into the office for a while if the traffic’s not bad.”
Nearly all school districts across Central Texas started classes late Friday and canceled outdoor events throughout the weekend.
School leaders at Murchison Middle School in Northwest Austin moved their Matador Fest — including rides, games, bingo and raffle — indoors to the gym, cafeteria and courtyard. The Snow Tubing Hillside, however, was canceled, with promises from the PTA that it would bring the snow event to the school during nicer weather in January and February.
Next week, a low-pressure trough will bring a second spate of frigid air and, along with it, the possibility of freezing rain and sleet Monday night and Tuesday morning, forecasters said.
That will keep temperatures in the 30s and 40s later next week, before slowly warming to highs in the 50s by the end of the week.