Arctic Air Threatens Ice, Snow for Texas and U.S. Center

A blast of arctic air has rolled into the central U.S., touching off an ice storm that has grounded hundreds of flights in Texas. Air travel in New York and Newark was also slowed by heavy fog.

Freezing rain is expected in North Texas tonight, coating roads, trees and power lines with a layer of ice at least 0.25 inch (0.6 centimeter) thick, according to the National Weather Service. The cold may also boost energy use.

“Ice accumulations will create hazardous travel conditions on area roads, especially on bridges and overpasses,” the weather service said in a winter storm warning for Dallas and Fort Worth. “Ice accumulations may make road surfaces impassable at times through Friday afternoon.”

Separate from the storm, heavy fog in and around New York City has added to the air delays. A dense fog advisory is place from northern New Jersey to Connecticut, including New York, until 6 a.m. tomorrow.

American Airlines Inc. and its regional partner American Eagle have canceled 500 flights at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport today and tomorrow, according to an e-mail from Andrea Huguely, a company spokeswoman in Fort Worth.

Around the U.S. today, 880 flights have been scrubbed including 370 at Dallas/Fort Worth, 216 at LaGuardia Airport in New York, 112 at Newark Liberty International Airport and 69 at Philadelphia International Airport as of 3 p.m. New York time, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service.

Tumbling Temperatures

The frigid air has descended from Canada and is spreading across the western and southern U.S., sending temperatures tumbling. Readings are forecast to average more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 Celsius) below normal from today to Dec. 9 and that will lead to increased energy demand, according to Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

“The big picture still favors an impressive December demand level nationally through next week before the pattern starts to gradually moderate,” Rogers wrote in his forecast today.

Natural gas futures rose 4.3 percent today to settle at a six-month high of $4.132 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the Energy Information Administration reported that inventories fell a more-than-forecast 162 billion cubic feet last week.

Temperatures are mainly plunging in the South rather than the East, said Rob Carolan, owner of Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire.

“Here in the East, we will definitely cool off, but we won’t get the really cold stuff,” Carolan said by telephone.

California Warning

In California, a hard freeze warning, meaning temperatures can get low enough to hurt livestock and damage crops, is in effect until later today, according to the weather service.

The temperature was 46 degrees in Fresno, California, at about noon local time and is expected to fall to 28 tonight.

“It is an impressive air mass for the severity of the cold and the amount of real estate it is covering,” Carolan said. “This is something we usually see in January.”

There is a sharp gradient between the advancing cold and the weather in front of it, Carolan said. It was 37 degrees in Dallas and 73 in Houston at 6 a.m. local time. Houston’s temperature was expected to drop to 41 late today.

“It is just brutal cold air,” said Dave Samuel, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “It is just nasty. It is about as cold as you can get at this time of year.”

Three systems were poised to affect the U.S. and Canada.

Crossing Canada

As the ice storm moves into the central U.S., a second storm is sweeping across Canada today, bringing freezing rain and snow to Ontario and Quebec, Samuel said. Snowfall and freezing-rain warnings are in place for those provinces, according to Environment Canada. The storm should miss Toronto and Montreal to the north, Samuel said.

Duluth, Minnesota, received almost 11 inches of snow yesterday and has had 23 inches since Dec. 1, according to the weather service.

The southern system threatens to coat an area from North Texas through southern Illinois with snow and ice starting today, Samuel said.

Winter-storm warnings and advisories are in place from New Mexico to Ohio. An ice-storm warning has been issued for parts of eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The warning in Dallas takes effect at 6 p.m. local time and runs for 24 hours.

Freezing Rain

“It looks like there will be enough freezing rain to bring down trees and power lines,” Samuel said.

From Dallas to Little Rock, Arkansas, the storm will be mainly ice and freezing rain, he said. There may be snow north of that line.

An ice storm warning is in place for parts of eastern Texas and Oklahoma stretching across central Arkansas into Tennessee, according to the weather service. Little Rock may receive a half-inch of ice. The weather may make it harder for repair crews to restore lost power, Samuel said.

The temperature in Harrison, Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains, reached 70 degrees yesterday, according to the weather service. It was 26 at 9:53 a.m. local time today and is expected to drop to 5 late tomorrow.

“Single digits and without power, that will be brutal,” Samuel said.

A third system will develop over the Ohio Valley this weekend, Samuel said. It may bring a mix of rain, sleet and snow to Washington, D.C., and Virginia, then move west of New York and Boston, bringing more rain than snow to those cities.

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