North Texas is entering the third round of a winter storm that has brought thunder, sleet and freezing rain to the Metroplex.
The National Weather Service expects up to 0.5 inches of ice to accumulate on roads, with conditions expected to worsen Wednesday night and into Thursday morning thanks to additional freezing rain. An ice storm warning is in place across 14 counties, including Tarrant, through at least 9 a.m. Thursday.
Freezing rain poses unique risks as opposed to sleet, which is a mix of ice pellets, rain and snow. Sleet is initially easier for drivers to navigate before it turns into sheets of ice, Hunter Reeves, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Dallas-Fort Worth office, said. Ice pellets add texture to the street and traction for tires, he said.
Tips for handling power outages at home
- Report the outage to your utility provider, such as Oncor. Find your company here.
- Have flashlights, blankets and warm jackets nearby.
- Prepare a generator if able, but never use it indoors.
- Charge electronic devices as much as possible before weather arrives.
- Close curtains and blinds to trap in heat.
- Have a heat source, such as a fireplace or standalone indoor heater, prepared for use. Do not use your oven or gas stove to heat your home. (Leaving an oven open can release carbon monoxide into your home, which could be fatal.)
“As you drive over sleet over and over again, it begins to pack the ice down, and it basically makes it into a sheet of ice,” Reeves said. “With freezing rain, it’s glazing that layer as soon as it makes contact. That’s what makes freezing rain so much worse.”
The ice caused by freezing rain immediately adds weight to tree branches and power lines, creating a higher likelihood for power outages as branches fall and create damage, Reeves said. More than 330,000 Texans have experienced localized power outages as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, with just 14 outages in Tarrant County, according to PowerOutage.us.
Officials are urging residents to avoid driving or traveling during the storm unless absolutely necessary. While temperatures are expected to rise above freezing Feb. 2, the remaining ice will impact the morning commute. Snow is possible across North Texas that afternoon and evening, according to the current forecast.
“We’ll finally see road conditions significantly improved by Friday because the sun will be out and we’ll be back into the upper 40s, maybe even low 50s,” Reeves said.
Rising number of falls, injuries due to ice
Slick roads and sidewalks have already had an impact on injury numbers in Fort Worth.
Since Monday, the emergency department at JPS Health Network has treated 30 patients who fell, 22 patients involved in motor vehicle collisions and 17 patients who experienced cold and hypothermia symptoms.
As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, MedStar 911, which provides emergency medical services to Fort Worth and the surrounding area, said crews have treated 15 patients injured by slipping on ice.
Dr. Christopher Shank, a neurosurgeon at Texas Health Fort Worth, is taking care of people amid the storm. Shank is also the neuro-trauma medical director of the hospital’s Level 1 Trauma Center.
He’s seen an uptick in trauma patients this week, many who slipped while walking to the mailbox, store or neighbor’s house. Their falls led to skull fractures, spine fractures and brain bleeds.
Shank expects more injuries to come, including in the day or two after the bad weather passes. Older adults and men in their early 20s are particularly susceptible, he said. The former, because of age-related body changes. The latter, risk-taking behavior.
“I don’t think anyone is safe from trauma these days,” he said, “even more so in an environmental event like we’re having now.”
Shank recommends people avoid going out. If they must, he suggests they dress warmly, in layers, and wear shoes with traction. For Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo attendees, he said, “today is probably not the best day for your slick cowboy boots.”
For everyone, he encourages relying on handrails and paying attention to surroundings. When assessing roads and sidewalks, people should “assume the worst,” he said.
“I would just assume that there’s a hazard and proceed accordingly.”
Another outdoor worry is frostbite, an injury that happens when parts of the body get too cold. Symptoms can range from a chilled, tingling sensation — a reversible condition called frostnip — to numb, black skin.
Connect with city, Tarrant County Hands of Hope
Want to connect with Tarrant County Hands of Hope? Text or call 817-298-2779. Or, email email@example.com.
Want text alerts about cold-weather shelters?
To receive text alerts about Fort Worth cold-weather shelters, text FWCOLD to 817-241-3544.
To receive text alerts about Arlington cold-weather shelters, text ARLCOLD to 817-241-3544.
For more information about shelters in Tarrant County, visit the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition’s website.
The danger can arise before temperatures reach freezing, Dr. Timothy Niacaris, a hand surgeon with Texas Health Resources, told the Report in January. Wind and wetness hasten the progression.
Prevention is simple: “Protect and warm,” he said. When people venture outdoors, Niacaris recommends they dress warmly, with special attention to their core body temperature.
“When your body is cold, it tries to shunt your blood from sensitive areas — the fingers, the nose, toes and ears — to the central part of the body to keep you warm,” he said.
He encourages people to seek medical care if those sensitive areas blister or feel numb, and to look out for each other, including people on the street who may not have access to shelter or other resources. “Cold weather exposure, especially when you’re not adequately protected, can be life-threatening,” Niacaris said.
People can alert Tarrant County Hands of Hope, a homeless outreach organization, if they see someone who’s experiencing homelessness in the cold, John Ramsey, the nonprofit’s executive director, said.
Ideally, they’d call, text or email with a photo or description of the person, the location and the time of day. Ramsey’s team will try to connect with those people as roads improve.
Keeping medication safe
Cold weather can affect a person’s health inside the home, too — especially during a power outage.
Extreme temperatures may render medicines less effective, Sheena Nguyen, a pharmacist with Texas Health Resources Medical Support, told the Report in December. “That can be dangerous for people who rely on these medications to live,” she said.
She recommends people review their medicines’ storage information. Different drugs can handle different temperatures. Medicine in liquid form, like insulin for diabetes, is especially vulnerable to extreme cold, she said.
It shouldn’t be kept in cars, garages, on windowsills or other spaces that aren’t temperature-regulated.
“If you have any questions about the effectiveness of your medication, or notice that your medication looks damaged, I would contact the local pharmacy,” she said. “They are the best resources to help guide you to what to do next.”
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
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