Texans encountered dangerous road conditions Thursday morning thanks to a winter storm that plunged deep into the Lone Star State, depositing as much as a quarter-inch of ice on some road surfaces. The weather is being blamed for massive pileups that are still being cleared. One of the pileups on I-35 near Fort Worth was reportedly 1.5 miles long and involving up to 100 vehicles, and at least five people are reported dead. You can see crash after crash in the social media embeds below.
“The vehicles are just mangled,” said Matt Zavadsky, spokesman for MedStar, which provides the ambulance service for the area. “Multiple tow trucks are on scene. It’s going to take a lot to disentangle this wreck.”
Thirty-six people were taken to hospitals from the crash, several with critical injuries, Zavadsky said. Police set up a reunification center for family members at a community center.
“The roadway was so treacherous from the ice that several of the first responders were falling on the scene,” Zavadsky said.
Local officials declared the weather emergency a mass-casualty event. A local weather spotter was on the scene as crews attempted to clear parts of I-35W north of Fort Worth.
Local responders urged drivers to stay off the roads early Thursday as multiple injury-causing accidents were reported in rapid succession. "11 [multi-vehicle collisions] since midnight, 6 in the past 90 minutes, including rollover crashes. Area emergency crews very busy, please drive carefully! If you don't HAVE to drive, please DON'T. Roads are treacherous. Give emergency crews plenty of room at crash scenes," MedStar EMS tweeted. At least one twitter user captured the I-35W pile-up as it happened (foul language warning):
Local National Weather service officers urged caution throughout the day Thursday as the system makes its way through the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area.
In suburban Austin, more than two dozen vehicles were involved in a pileup on an icy highway, and five people were taken to a hospital, emergency officials said.
The storm came as a polar vortex — swirling air that normally sits over the Earth's poles — has moved near the U.S.-Canada border, resulting in colder weather farther south than usual, said Steve Goss, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
“As a result we’re getting unusually or unseasonably cold air that’s spilling south across a good portion of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains,” he said.
In Tennessee, police responded to about 30 traffic collisions and some flights were delayed at Memphis International Airport after freezing rain and sleet fell. In Kentucky, the governor declared a state of emergency to free up funding and help agencies coordinate as they responded to reports of slick roads and downed power lines. And in southern Indiana, schools and government offices closed.
Goss said that smaller disturbances moving through the polar jet stream will bring “a shot of winter weather” into southern portions of the country.
He said some areas that don't normally get snowfall will likely see heavy amounts over the next several days. He said current estimates show some areas of the Southern Plains could get a foot or more.
Associated Press reporting was included.