- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

SAN ANTONIO, Feb. 25 (UPI) — A late-winter storm packing snow, sleet and ice struck deep in the heart of Texas on Tuesday, claiming at least one life, closing schools and snarling travel.

Airport delays and hundreds of traffic accidents were reported from Dallas south to the San Antonio area where a 400-mile section of Interstate 10 was closed for a time all the way to Fort Stockton in West Texas. Most of it was later reopened.

Freezing rain was predicted Tuesday night in the Austin and San Antonio area and there was a chance of another round of the wintry mix early Wednesday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Ice and sleet from 1 to 2 inches thick covered roads across the region and road crews were outgunned by Mother Nature in areas like San Antonio where winter weather is rare.

"The problem exceeded the highway department's ability to respond with equipment," said San Antonio Public Works Director Tom Wendorf.

Early Tuesday all the freeways in San Antonio were closed and traffic redirected through residential streets. This is the usual strategy in the Alamo City, which doesn't have snow removal or sand-spreading equipment to handle snow or ice.

A 50-year-old man was killed when his truck went out of control on ice covered Loop 1604 in east Bexar County and slammed head on into another vehicle. San Antonio police Sgt. Gabe Trevino reported dozens of serious accidents all over the city.

"We're just asking everybody to be patient while the roads remain closed," he said. "We're keeping the highways closed in the interests of safety. If we're going to err, we're going to err on the side of caution."

Major winter weather like Tuesday's occurs every three or four years in San Antonio, and Wendorf said that doesn't justify the expenditures needed to purchase the sorts of snow and ice removal equipment that is commonly found in northern cities.

"I want to encourage everybody to slow down if you're driving," Wendorf said. "If you don't have to drive, don't."

The storm also caused major problems at San Antonio International Airport during the morning, according to spokeswoman Lisa Burkhardt-Worley.

Most public schools, businesses and government offices remained closed throughout the day as they did in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to the north.

"It's just too cold, that's all that I can say," said one man as he was used a credit card to attempt to scrape a layer of ice from his windshield. "That's why I live in the south."

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, freeways and streets were nearly deserted Tuesday during the rush hour because most schools and businesses were closed.

Temperatures failed to climb above freezing Tuesday in the North Texas and another day of unusual late-winter weather was expected Wednesday.

"For February, we are not used to this around here," said Dan Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

About 1.9 inches of sleet was recorded at the weather station at Fort Worth but 4 inches of snow and sleet was reported at the state's northern border.

TXU Gas reported an extraordinary demand for gas from its system and urged some customers in the Metroplex to reduce their usage as much as possible.

Students at closed schools got an extra day to study for the state's new assessment test that was scheduled Tuesday across the state. They have to take the test on the first day they return to class.

Flights were disrupted at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Love Field in Dallas because of the late-winter storm.

At Love Field, Southwest Airlines delayed most of its flights early in the day but resumed normal operations about 10:30 a.m.

At DFW, American Airlines reported 50 percent of its flights were canceled at DFW, the base for the world's largest airline. American Eagle also cut about half its flights at the airport.

At least 2,500 passengers were stranded overnight at DFW airport because the storm.

The winter storm that struck Oklahoma and Texas was moving east into Arkansas, Mississippi and other Gulf states, bring freezing rains to some new areas.

On the west coast, heavy rain snarled the morning commute in San Diego. The California Highway Patrol reported more than 50 accidents on the city's freeways around daybreak. The storm is moving to the east, but is considered too warm to bring much in the way of snow to the mountains east of town.

It was supposed to be stormy all day in Los Angeles, but its partly cloudy after periods of rain overnight. There is a winter storm warning up in the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties where 6-12 inches could fall above 5,000 feet.


(Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Hil Anderson in Los Angeles, and Phil Magers in Dallas)

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