Winter storm coats area in ice, prompts snow days
By Abigail Allen
Rounds of winter precipitation brought much of the area to a grinding halt, starting on Monday.
Area schools announced closures as the first shower fell, with schools like Pilot Point calling for early release, while Aubrey made the decision not to open right before the first elementary bell rang.
"Our buses leave about 6:15, so we try to make a call by then," Aubrey ISD Superintendent Dr. David Belding said.
The district administrators had been checking conditions throughout the morning Monday, Belding said, and everything appeared to be safe enough for the roadways to stay clear when the buses needed to start their routes.
That changed, however, when the sleet rolled in hours earlier than anticipated, at around 6:40 a.m.
"There was a patch of drizzle that came through just all of a sudden," Belding said. "… At first, it was just a little drizzle. It was hitting the windshield, but it wasn't really impacting the roads. It lasted about 10 minutes and then [FM] 428 got really slick. When that was the case and there were beginning to be some reports of some accidents, then I [made the call]."
Administrators started messaging parents, asking those who were still home to keep their children with them and those whose kids were on the bus to connect with the schools to collect them.
Unlike the Jan. 24 flurries that fell and mostly cleared overnight, the wintery mix this week was able to stick around.
The Artic cold front that blew into the area on Jan. 26 brought temperatures below freezing and kept them low.
"We had an upper level disturbance that was gaining strength across the West Coast, and it sent several little disturbances over the area, and so it had plenty of moisture being pulled up from that disturbance," National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Fano said. "It was just enough energy and moisture in the atmosphere to produce precipitation, and with the subfreezing temperatures down low, it kind of started out as freezing drizzle and then kind of transitioned into freezing rain and sleet."
Fano said the winter weather was projected to worsen before improving, with freezing rain on Wednesday.
"One bad thing is that once the system gets out of here, temperatures, especially across North Texas will fall below freezing again Thursday night, so residual moisture could refreeze again, so travel impact in certain areas may actually linger all the way through mid-day Friday," Fano said.
One component of the storm—thunder sleet—"is not as uncommon as people think it is," Fano said.
"It doesn't happen all the time, but typically when you do get thunder sleet, the sleet usually comes down pretty hard," he added. "So, that's what we've been experiencing."
Freezing rain is different than sleet or snow.
"It's going to remain a liquid drop until it hits something, and once it hits something, then it freezes," Fano said. "That's freezing rain."
The other two are frozen throughout the entire process.
Freezing rain can make driving, which was already touchy throughout the area as early as Monday morning, more treacherous.
"Luckily sleet doesn't accumulate on power lines; sleet doesn't accumulate on trees and that type of thing," Fano said. "But freezing rain does. … With all the sleet and ice already on the ground, you add a layer of freezing rain, it could make roads impassible if it falls heavy enough."
The cities throughout the area also closed down in response to the freeze.
"We look at what's closing and how we're closing based on safety," Pilot Point City Manager Britt Lusk said.
While the City Hall staff was asked to stay home, the city's first responders—the firefighters, police officers and Public Works Department crews—were still on hand to keep the city's essential services running.
"They're working around the clock," Lusk said.
Lusk brought up that the Public Works Department kept everything running in 2021 despite days of power failure.
"During Snowmaggedon, we were one of the only cities … in North Texas that didn't have to do a boil water notice," he said.
The rainy mix that has hit the area this week posed a challenge for the Pilot Point Public Works crews because they use sand to help vehicles gain traction, but that mix can wash away.
"We mostly do the main thoroughfares through the city," Lusk said, to help conserve the mix the city has available while providing the most good possible.
As for services that include the library and permitting, the city typically follows the lead of Pilot Point ISD on closing.
Making the call to disrupt people's regularly scheduled lives is not something school officials take lightly, Belding said.
"That's a big part of the equation, too," he said.
He added that the Denton County Emergency Management department helps connect city and school district officials throughout the area and keeps them informed daily of weather developments in situations such as these.
"The National Weather Service is part of that call, and so that helps us kind of know, 'Here's what they're thinking for tomorrow,'" Belding said. "So that we can make better informed decisions."
Making the call is a balance between safety and practicality, Belding said, "because sometimes in Texas, things shift really quickly."
"If you make that decision too quick, it would have been fine to be in school but we've already closed," he said. "You try to be purposeful about it."
Being closed through Wednesday at least cost the district much of the extra time it had banked.
"We could use bad weather days or we could adjust the school day to be able to make those days up and not have to impact people's plans around the Easter holiday," Belding said. "We'll look at that once we get back in school and see what we think makes the most sense moving forward."
As of Tuesday, Belding didn't know whether the Texas Education Agency would be granting bad weather waivers as it did in 2021 and 2022.
"I'm hoping this is our big event for the year, and it will be smooth sailing from here on out," he said.
By Wednesday morning, Pilot Point ISD had canceled school for Thursday.
That remains to be seen.
There's a chance of more cold accompanied by rain and possibly thunderstorms on Tuesday or Wednesday, Fano said.
"I know the key question on your mind is, 'Are we done with winter weather after this?'" he said. "Well, I'd like to say yes, but unfortunately February is usually our snowiest month, and we still have the whole month to go."