Austin appears to take brunt of Texas icing

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Associated Press

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 9:02 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 29 at 9:02 AM

HOUSTON (AP) — Ice-glazed roads caused dozens of wrecks Tuesday as a line of moisture combined with frigid temperatures put normally balmy Central and Southeast Texas in the deep freeze for the second time in less than a week.

The most severe traffic problems appeared to be in the Austin area, where elevated decks of Interstate 35 and some flyover ramps were closed. Police reported more than 150 traffic wrecks throughout the area.

The University of Texas and other school districts delayed opening or shut for the entire day.

The freezing rain extended from west and north of San Antonio to Temple, across Bryan-College Station and Huntsville and east to Louisiana. A trace of snow was reported in Waco.

Jane Young, an 80-year-old pastor's wife, was driving in an unfamiliar corner of Austin before dawn when sleet began falling.

"As I drove, I prayed the whole way," she said. "I said, 'Lord, put your hands on mine and guide me. This is your car now.'"

She made it to her destination, a polling station where she was volunteering during a special election to fill a vacant Texas House seat.

"It was just so scary," she said.

Austin-area officials meeting about 3 a.m. were told icy conditions would not be bad, emergency management spokesman Jacob Dirr said. However, that changed after daybreak when it became obvious conditions had deteriorated.

By then, some children in districts outside Austin already were on school buses while some teachers and principals were reporting they couldn't get out of their homes because of ice, prompting officials to reverse earlier decisions and close or delay openings at the last minute.

"I feel terrible about the way it played out," Leander Superintendent Bret Champion told the Austin American-Statesman. "That put parents in bad spots after sending their kids on the bus. It made it look like we weren't paying attention, when we were hyper-paying attention.

"I would never have put kids on the road if I had known."

In Houston, freezing rain caused minimal difficulties and traffic was light. Most schools and city and county offices throughout the area were closed. The Texas Department of Transportation sent sanding trucks to overpasses where ice was reported.

Last Friday, a similar storm that also brought snowfall to some places was blamed for hundreds of traffic accidents in far wider area of Central and South Texas.

"It's not as bad as we projected," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. "But the schools, I think, were pretty smart and canceled classes."

The National Weather Service's weather advisory for the Austin and San Antonio areas expired at midday Tuesday. A similar advisory for the Houston area was in effect until late afternoon.

A winter storm warning remained in effect until 6 a.m. Wednesday for six counties in far Southeast Texas, including Beaumont in Jefferson County.

Airlines canceled hundreds of flights at Houston's Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports.

"It's a bummer when it happens to you and you are delayed a whole day," C.J. Ochoa, 20, of Midland, who was stranded at Bush Airport after a vacation in Hawaii, told the Houston Chronicle.

A hard freeze warning overnight into Wednesday extended over a wide swath of Central and South Texas, nearly to the Rio Grande Valley, where a freeze watch was posted. Forecasters said highs would reach into the 70s by later in the week.

The worst of the icy weather appeared to be east of Texas and into Louisiana, where a couple inches of snow was possible through early Wednesday along the Interstate 10 corridor.

In Austin, the school closings threw the special legislative seat election into confusion, since many polling places were in the schools. Travis County officials said voters could go to any open polling place.

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Associated Press reporters Chris Tomlinson and Will Weissert contributed to this story from Austin.

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