Severe cold hampers area, more expected this weekend
Last updated 1/16/2024 at 8:26pm
Bridges and overpasses closed Monday evening as freezing rain slicked roadways, leading to a number of vehicle crashes and schools being canceled for Tuesday.
Most of Texas is suffering under a strong arctic front that hit Orange County on Monday with strong winds sending windchills into the teens. The low at the Orange County Airport reached 23 degrees overnight, with a low of 19 forecast for Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service.
And even though Thursday is supposed to be sunny with a high of 68, people should leave their cold weather protections in place. Another cold front is forecast to come through on Saturday, once again dropping the temperatures into the 20s.
Orange County Emergency Management Director Joel Ardoin on Tuesday said he heard of no major problems, except for the slick roads and bridges. County offices closed on Tuesday, along with schools, because of the roads, bridges, and overpasses freezing.
A fire Monday night destroyed an RV and the resident was able to escape safely because of her dog awakening her. Fire officials attributed the blaze to a space heater "fire place."
The NWS forecast had called for a slight, 10 percent chance of freezing rain for Southeast Texas, but some hit Monday afternoon. Freezing rain falls as liquid and immediately freezes to a slick sheet of ice. A few snow flurries were spotted, but the snow didn't stick.
Luckily, the ice layer was thin, not like the freezing rain that caused the devastating ice storm in January 1997 that left thick coats of ice on trees, causing thousands of limbs and branches to break off. The falling branches caused major power outages that took days to fix. In addition, the limbs crashed through roofs and blocked roadways.
The Texas Department of Transportation late Monday afternoon closed the Rainbow and Veterans bridges between Bridge City and Port Arthur, along with the Highway 62 overpass at Mauriceville. Tuesday morning, they were opened.
The county closed the East Roundbunch Road swing bridge outside of Bridge City and it is expected to open on Wednesday.
Some schools along with Orange County and city of Orange offices were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.
The annual Orange NAACP MLK March went on schedule late Monday morning from Salem United Methodist Church to the Riverfront Pavilion in downtown. Marchers, including a group from the new Chevron Phillips Golden Triangle Polymers plant, huddled against strong north winds with gusts up to 20 miles per hour. Temperatures in Orange were in the mid-30s at the time, with the winds putting the windchill to 28 degrees.
By late afternoon, the freezing rain had hit, covering cars, sidewalks, and outdoor steps. Bridges and overpasses are more likely to freeze because of cold air under their surfaces. A crash involving two 18-wheel truck rigs and a car shut down the Interstate 10 bridge over the Sabine River. A pickup truck slid and hit the wall of the Highway 62 overpass in Mauriceville.
Tuesday morning, a few more snow flurries were spotted, but skies mostly cleared. That didn't mean the temperatures warmed. The high at the county airport Tuesday reached 36 degrees, but the strong winds with gusts up to 25 mph made the windchill never rise past 28 degrees.
Even in the cold wind, kids out of school played outside, collecting icicles that reached 10 inches in some places and throwing discs of ice covering bird baths, pet bowls, buckets and other water-filled containers outside.
Some restaurants and businesses also closed, but were expected to be back open on Wednesday.
The next cold front is forecast to blow in on Friday, again bringing strong north winds with gusts up to 30 mph. But at least Friday and Saturday with the sub-freezing weather, the skies are supposed to be clear with no freezing rain or snow.