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RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI, Associated Press
A large storm already blamed for at least eight deaths in the West slogged through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest on Sunday, leading to hundreds of flight cancellations as it slowly churned east ahead of Thanksgiving.
After the storm plows through the Southwest, meteorologists expect the Arctic mass to head south and east, threatening plans for Tuesday and Wednesday as people hit the roads and airports for some of the busiest travel days of the year.
More than 300 flights were cancelled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, representing about one-third of the scheduled departures, and a spokeswoman said deicing equipment had been prepared as officials planned for the worst in a flurry of conference calls and meetings.
“It’s certainly going to be a travel impact as we see the first few people making their way for Thanksgiving,” National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Bradshaw said.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for chunks of North Texas from noon Sunday until midday Monday. Parts of Oklahoma are also under a winter storm warning, while an advisory has been issued for other parts of the state. A mix of rain and sleet began falling north of Dallas on Interstate 35 by midday Sunday, and areas of southwestern Oklahoma woke up to several inches of snow.
Some elevated overpasses had icy surfaces, but Bradshaw said the worst weather could be expected between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m., possibly snarling morning rush hour.
Several inches of snow fell overnight in Altus in far southwestern Oklahoma, said Damaris Machabo, a receptionist at a Holiday Inn motel.
“It looks great. I love the snow,” Machabo said. The snow and freezing temperatures made driving in the area treacherous, but Machabo said she had no problems getting to work early Sunday. Forecasts called for more snow in the area later in the day.
Portions of New Mexico — especially in some of the higher elevations — also had several inches of snow, and near white out conditions were reported along stretches of Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque.
Then along the New Mexico-Texas border, into the El Paso area, a mix of snow, sleet and ice forced some road closures and created messy driving conditions.
Flagstaff in Arizona had 11 inches of snow by early Sunday, and was expected to get another inch by the end of the day before the storm petered out. Metro Phoenix and other parts of central Arizona received between 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches of rain over the course of the storm. The storms caused cancellations of sporting events and parades and damaged the roofs of homes across Arizona.
In Tucson, firefighters on Friday recovered the body of a man who was swept away by high water in the Santa Cruz River. Tucson police said Sunday an autopsy revealed signs of trauma, and they were investigating the death as a homicide. They did not say whether they had ruled out the storm as a cause of his death.
By early Sunday, the weather was blamed for at least eight deaths in several fatal traffic accidents. The storm also caused hundreds of rollover accidents, including one that injured three members of singer Willie Nelson’s band when their bus hit a pillar on Interstate 30 near Sulphur Springs, about 75 miles northeast of Dallas.
Dallas prepared for the storm by declaring “Ice Force Level 1,” code for sending 30 sanding trucks to trouble shoot hazardous road conditions.
At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, spokeswoman Cynthia Vega said most of the cancelled flights were in the afternoon and evening hours and were with American Airlines and American Eagle. The possibility of ice on the runways led to a series of conference calls and meetings early Sunday, she added, noting the airport had liquid and solid deicers ready for use.
The storm system, though, was particularly hard to predict because a couple of degrees here or there with the temperature will determine whether regions see rain, sleet or snow, Bradshaw said.
“It’s very difficult to pin those down,” Bradshaw said. “It’s slow moving and it’s sort of bringing its energy out in pieces so it’s kind of hard to time these as they come across with a great deal of accuracy.”
Plushnick-Masti reported from Houston.
Associated Press writers John L. Mone in Dallas, Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.