Dec 6, 2013 5:10 PM by David Randall
A deep freeze gripped almost the entire United States on Friday - pushing temperatures to 20 below in Wyoming, emptying stores in Texas of firewood and threatening to knock out power across an ice-glazed swath of the South and Midwest.
In north Texas alone, more than 600 flights were canceled and an estimated 250,000 people were left in the dark as sleet weighed down power lines and snapped tree branches. Dallas called off its marathon for this weekend, with many of the thousands of expected runners unable to get there.
By midday, five states had recorded at least two and a half feet of snow since Wednesday. The highest total was 35 inches, near Two Harbors, Minn.
Winter storm warnings covered parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. The manager of a Home Depot store in Dallas concluded: "It's almost like a Black Friday. But I guess we'll call it an ice Friday."
Only a slice of the East Coast was spared the winter blast. Elsewhere, the story was ice, snow and brutal cold.
Big Sky Country woke up to double-take temperatures. It was 23 degrees below zero in Laramie, Wyo., and felt like 41 below. In Helena, Mont., the mercury fell to 10 below, with a wind child of minus 29.
In Rapid City, S.D., it was so cold that they had to close an outdoor skating rink.
The big chill extended to parts of the country much less accustomed to it. Parts of Nevada were at 18 below, and parts of Oregon at 9 degrees above zero. In Flagstaff, Ariz., the temperature just before dawn was 7.
In California, farmers pumped water into the soil to keep it from freezing and used wind machines to blow mild air across the citrus crops, most of which is still on the vine. Citrus in California is a $2 billion industry. Lettuce and avocados were also in danger.
"You get frost calls, and you go out and kind of control to make sure it doesn't do any damage - and then you get a full blown freeze where you're fighting to save crops," John Gless, the manager of a 5,000-acre ranch that grows oranges and lemons north of Los Angeles, told The Associated Press.
Further east, the danger was more immediate. Half a foot of snow fell on southern Illinois and 3½ inches on the Indianapolis airport, with 5 to 8 inches more expected throughout the day on Friday, threatening the roads.
More than 500 flights at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, one of the country's busiest, were canceled Thursday and Friday, according to FlightAware.com, and 70,000 people in the surrounding area were without power. That figure was expected to climb to 100,000 by Saturday.
"Some roads will be impassible, but the biggest issue will be the power outages," said Michael Palmer, a lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel.
"A lot of these places, especially in the more rural areas, are going to stay below freezing for some time, so you will not see much the way of melting," he said. "They could be without power for a long while."
Authorities in north Texas planned to cover 850 miles of highways with sand, and Dallas declared a condition called Ice Force One, preparing dump trucks to clear the city roads.
In Indiana, the driver of a flatbed semi lost control on snow-covered Interstate 70, crossed the median and crashed into a car, killing its driver, a man from Illinois. A woman from Brazil was killed in a four-car crash elsewhere in Indiana.
Schools in Nashville, Tenn., announced that they would close two hours early.
The governor of Missouri said that he was preparing all the state's four-wheel-drive vehicles to get to stranded drives. Grocery stores in Arkansas ran low on bread, milk and bottled water.
"I'm going to get coffee, cigarettes and cat food," Holly Vines of Little Rock told Reuters, "then I'm going to get my sable coat out of storage in case I have to sleep in it."
Officials at Oklahoma State University kicked students out of a makeshift tent community that they set up for Saturday's rivalry football game against Oklahoma, the AP reported.
By the time the storm marches east, to the population centers of the Northeast, it is mostly expected to dump rain, making for a wet Friday in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.
For the West, a second punch was on the way. A storm system was descending on the West Coast from Alaska, expected to dump snow on coastal Oregon and Northern California on Friday, and the Sierra Nevada rang on Saturday.