BY KENNETH DEAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
Spinning tires on ice was a familiar sound today as motorists attempted to maneuver city streets, county roads and an interstate that resembled a mall parking lot just before Christmas.
Hundreds of motorists were stuck on Interstate 20 and many others found themselves doing an ice ballet as they traveled around East Texas after an ice storm walloped the area Sunday.
The icy interstate gridlock was just part of the picture in the aftermath of a surprise winter storm that pelted East Texas on Sunday, closing schools and leaving thousands without power, businesses without employees and crippling road conditions.
The city of Tyler suspended garbage and transit services, and “warm shelters” for those who needed to escape the cold opened throughout the region. Tyler Pounds Regional Airport was closed.
Police and fire crews worked tirelessly as they handled accidents and kept traffic moving through intersections.
CBS Chief meteorologist John Adams said the area might get another two rounds of freezing precipitation, one Tuesday morning and another Wednesday morning.
The CBS19 forecast calls for a 20 percent chance of precipitation Tuesday, with a low of 22 and high of 41.
The precipitation chances increase to 30 percent Wednesday, with a low of 27 and high of 52.
Adams said no one could have predicted the storm that hit Smith County and East Texas with totals of up to 1.5 inches of sleet.
"We knew there was going to be a change, but didn't know exactly what until it began," he said. “We might see another round of freezing rain early Tuesday morning and again Wednesday morning, but then we will warm up and hit a high 70s by Friday," he said.
Tyler police spokesman Don Martin said today that signals were coming back on and the roads were improving, but icy conditions were expected again today.
"Again people need to be aware of the freezing conditions in the morning," he said. "A lot of people were hitting the hills and freaking out because they just couldn't get up and were sliding backward.”
Paul Findley, Tyler fire marshal, said his department along with Tyler police worked numerous weather-related accidents and a couple of fires, but no major structure fires were reported as of this afternoon.
Martin said the accidents were too numerous to count because some accidents were just marked as traffic and not accidents.
"If they were minor, we might not have even been called, so there is really know way of counting those accidents,” he said. “Everyone just needs to keep their speeds low and make sure they have plenty of room between them and the vehicle in front of them," he said.
Power crews from the area and Dallas hit Smith County hard Monday, but Charles Hill of Oncor said that as of 3 p.m. today there were 7,000 customers in the Tyler area without power.
"We are still fighting it with lots of people on the ground, but everywhere we go we are finding more line down than we expected. It will be late in the day (today) before all the power is restored," he said.
City of Tyler spokeswoman Susan Guthrie said about 25 truckloads of slag, a material used to make icy roads safer, was put down on Tyler streets.
Ms. Guthrie said there were almost 100 spots around town where downed trees, power lines and other debris blocked roads.
She said the city would sand roadways and bridges throughout the night.
"We are still encouraging people not to get out unless it is absolutely necessary," she said.
Ms. Guthrie said the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport was closed due to the weather as was the public library and other public services.
"We do not take closing our services lightly, but the weather dictated we close to ensure safety," she said.
But it wasn’t all meteorological misery for East Texans. Children could be seen sliding down icy hills and, in the absence of snow, making ice men.
In southeast Tyler, Jackie Pacas and daughter, Andrea, ventured out into the cold with their schnauzer, Andy.
Andrea, 15, a Robert E. Lee High School sophomore, said it was “wonderful” to have the day off.
She did some sledding using a big plastic container to slide down a hill at an elementary school campus.
After sliding past the bushes into a fence, she decided to go to the playground where she slid down the slide, which was covered with ice.
Ms. Pacas, 36, a school counselor, said they used to live in Dallas so they have some experience with the winter weather.
Their schnauzer Andy wore a blue sweater and jacket to keep warm.
Andrea said after being outside for a bit, they planned to go inside where she would start a fire and watch some “Breaking Bad” episodes.
Reporters Emily Guevara and Faith Harper contributed to this report.