Icy storm shuts down North Texas

Southwest among areas hit hard by wintry blast stretching across U.S.

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DALLAS — Freezing rain and stinging winds slammed the Southwest on Friday and made a strangely blank landscape out of normally sun-drenched North Texas: mostly empty highways covered in a sometimes impassable frost, closed schools and businesses, and millions of residents hunkered down for icy conditions expected to last through the weekend.

Earlier this week, many in Texas were basking in spring-like temperatures that hit the 80s. By Thursday, Texas faced the same wintry blast that has slammed much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.

The weather forced the cancellation of Sunday's Dallas Marathon, which was expected to draw 25,000 runners, some of whom had trained for months. A quarter of a million customers in North Texas were left without power, and many businesses told employees to stay home.

Rob Yates, 44, of the Dallas suburb of Rowlett, had trained for four months to participate in the half-marathon Sunday -- his first time competing at that distance. His wife and three children were going to attend the race to volunteer and cheer him on, he said.

Now, "I'll probably be catching up on some work," Yates said, laughing.

Yates spent Friday at home with his children, who were outside pulling off icicles and wishing more snow had fallen. But Yates, originally from near Manchester, England, said he stayed inside with his wife.

"It's kind of unusual weather for Dallas, so they're just having fun with it," Yates said. "Me and my wife — adults are not particularly impressed with it."

Friday's storm stretched from South Texas, where anxious residents bagged outdoor plants to protect them from the cold, through the Midwest and Ohio Valley and into northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay Area as the region dealt with freezing temperatures, according to the Santa Clara County coroner's office. Rosie Dominguez, a spokeswoman for the office, confirmed the deaths and their cause but provided no further information. Dominguez referred questions to a county spokeswoman, who did not immediately return a phone call Friday afternoon.

In North Texas, agencies and residents haven't forgotten the disastrous week before the Super Bowl two years ago, when an inadequate response to a snowstorm crippled the region and left visitors stranded on impassable highways.

People in the Dallas area raided grocery shelves and home improvement stores Thursday in advance of what one store manager joked was the Black Friday of bad weather -- "Ice Friday." Most people appeared to heed warnings Friday to stay inside.

Bundled up against the elements, Matthew Johnson was one of the few people braving the cold.

"We're going to walk the dog and have fun outside, I guess," said Johnson, standing near his home in the Dallas suburb of Richardson.

The weather led to more than 1,000 cancelations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the nation's busiest airports and a key hub for Fort Worth-based American Airlines. Many travelers were stuck waiting -- and hoping for another flight. Those arriving in North Texas were having trouble finding cabs as many drivers stayed home. Dallas-area light rail trains were not running.

"I don't let things like this stop me," said Dayo Bankale, a taxi driver at the airport Friday. "I'm not scared."

Rosibel Gutierrez Artavia, shivering in a light sweater as she waited for a taxi, had traveled from Alajuela, Costa Rica, to suburban Fort Worth to see family. Relatives called her before she left Costa Rica to warn her to pack warm. But she got the call when she was already at the airport.

"I did not come prepared with snow clothes," Artavia said in Spanish. But she was thankful the weather didn't prevent her from boarding a flight that got her from Houston to North Texas and close to her family.