U.S. ice storm causes blackouts, delays in Texas, Arkansas

DALLAS Sat Dec 7, 2013 4:29pm EST

1 of 5. Gary Peterson (L) uses a chainsaw to de-limb a large spruce tree that was toppled by strong winds during a snowstorm in Duluth, Minnesota December 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

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DALLAS (Reuters) - Freezing weather gripped parts of the United States on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of people in Texas and Arkansas coping in the cold without power after a winter storm made roads impassable and caused severe flight delays.

The Arctic chill is so pervasive that even Las Vegas may see snowy showers before the weekend is out, forecasters said. The coast-to-coast cold wave was predicted to spread east to Virginia and up to New England on Sunday through Monday.

"What's happening across most of the country is we're getting a very early taste of winter," Mike Muscher, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said on Saturday. "This is something you'd typically see in January or February."

A record-low temperature for December 7 - 42 degrees below zero - was recorded in Jordan, Montana.

More than 3,300 travelers were forced to sleep on cots overnight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where workers had managed to thaw only two of its seven runways by Saturday morning.

Airlines canceled more than 400 flights from DFW that were scheduled for Saturday, the airport said in a statement. Nearly a thousand flights were canceled on Friday.

At the height of the storm, some 267,000 electricity outages were reported in Texas, according to utility provider Oncor, but that number was down to about 130,000 early on Saturday. Oncor said it hoped to get power restored to "nearly all" of its customers by Sunday night.

Larry Thompson and his wife, Jessica, who are both nurses at Dallas-area hospitals, headed to a local hotel with their four young children after losing power in their home.

"I couldn't even warm a bottle," Thompson said, adding that he had to cancel going to work because the babysitter was not able to drive to their home because of treacherous roads.

"Everything is slick," he said. "The kids were holding hands and they're falling down, and I'm trying to hold the baby. I don't have enough hands."

Forecasters predicted sub-zero temperatures and icy conditions in the region for the rest of the weekend, with layers of ice and sleet up to 3 inches thick around Dallas. The city has already canceled a marathon planned for Sunday.

Streets were an icy and slushy mess across the region, and at least three people have been killed when their cars skidded off the road, authorities said. In Fort Worth, traffic ground to a halt on several major highways because of wrecks that blocked icy roads.

The frigid air was due to roll into the Northeast on Sunday through Monday. Accuweather predicted a "wintry mess" of ice, freezing rain and some of the first snow accumulations of the season from Virginia to New England, which may cause further travel delays.

The cold weather system will leave the East Coast over Monday night, the National Weather Service said.

(Writing by Jonathan Allen; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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