Houston’s rare snowfall led to slippery conditions overnight that forced road closures and contributed to several serious accidents, including one that killed a driver and another that injured a Houston police officer.
An officer investigating a minor traffic accident on 610 above the Gulf Freeway sustained injuries from a passing motorist who lost control around 7:30 a.m., Houston Police Department spokesman Kese Smith said.
That driver, who was not involved in the initial accident, saw the investigation, tapped their brakes and skidded into the patrol car – pinning the officer between his cruiser and the guard rail.
The officer was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital with leg injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening, Smith said. The officer’s name is not being released pending notification of family. He is assigned to the Eastside Patrol Division.
In another incident, a man died overnight in a one-car accident on North Wayside near the North Loop.
Around 11:30 p.m., a green Cadillac Seville was traveling southbound on North Wayside at a high rate of speed when it struck a curb, crossed a grassy median and continued into other lanes of traffic, Smith said. The car eventually stopped in a wooded area.
The driver was killed at the scene and his passenger was transported to Ben Taub General Hospital.
KHOU reported several additional accidents and closed roads.
Around 9 p.m., several cars lost control and slammed into each other late Friday on the elevated part of Studemont over White Oak Bayou near I-10. A pickup headed southbound on I-45 near Crosstimbers hit a patch of ice and spun out around 10 p.m. An 18-wheeler behind the truck couldn’t stop and the two collided. One person was transported to a hospital with minor injuries. The freeway was shutdown for about an hour for cleanup and sanding.
KHOU is reporting that about 6 a.m. today, a multi-car pileup on a Gulf Freeway overpass at Griggs prompted police to shut down all inbound lanes of I-45. At least one person was killed, but further details were not yet available. Traffic is being diverted to the feeder road, and inbound traffic quickly backed up.
Officials urged drivers to use caution, especially when navigating bridges and overpasses.
Many flights were delayed Friday because of mandatory de-icing procedures, and more than 100 were canceled.
Emergency officials voiced concerns that melted snow could turn to ice, especially on bridges and overpasses, but few drivers were seen testing the road conditions Friday night.
Even before the snow began falling, work crews already had applied a magnesium-chloride solution to places likely to be trouble spots for freezing.
“That’s when it’s most effective — we apply it when the roads are dry and give it time to set in,” said Sanchez. “We’re going to monitor it tonight and keep a pretty close eye on our roadways, especially the bridges and overpasses.”
Sand truck crews from the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation were on standby. The most pressing concern overnight was patches of difficult-to-detect “black ice” forming on the roadways as the temperature dropped, Sanchez said.
“You don’t always see the black ice and that can be deceptive,” he said. “We just don’t want folks to get overconfident. The danger is still there.”
The area’s greatest snow accumulations came about 60 miles southwest of Houston, where the National Weather Service reported 4 inches near Lane City and Boling. Wharton got 3 inches.
Closer to Houston, Pearland got 2.5 inches of snow. Officially, George Bush Intercontinental Airport recorded less than half an inch.
Houston’s snowfall this year was unprecedented. It beat the previous record for earliest snowfall of Dec. 10, set in 1944 and 2008, by nearly a week. It also was the first time accumulating snow has fallen in consecutive years.
Take that, Chicago
For what it’s worth, Houston’s seasonal total of snowfall this winter now exceeds that of Chicago, which has had just a trace so far. There’s a pretty good chance Houston will not lead that race for long, as the city averages one snowfall about every four years.
To get snow in the Houston area, weather conditions have to be almost perfect: arctic air must arrive at the same time as moisture in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere. Usually, the cold, dry air gets to Houston before the atmospheric moisture, which erodes it, or it arrives too late.
This time, a low-pressure system in the mid- to upper-levels reached our area right along with the Arctic air Friday morning.
No blizzards forecast
Looking ahead, meteorologist Fred Schmude of ImpactWeather said he does not expect another freezing night today after daytime highs reach the mid- to upper-40s because clouds will increase.
A modest chance of rainfall will return to the forecast Sunday through early next week as temperatures gradually warm.