Snow disrupts travel before Super Bowl in Dallas
Another blast of winter weather slammed Dallas with up to 5 inches of snow Friday, making driving hazardous and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights as tens of thousands of football fans descended on North Texas for the Super Bowl.
The latest punch of unusual cold and snow hit a city still struggling to recover from Tuesday's ice storm, part of a massive system that paralyzed a large swath of the country with blizzards, thundersnow and bone-chilling temperatures this week.
''It looks like, `Oh, no, I'm back in Canada,''' said Sammy Sandu, a 32-year-old property developer from Kelowna, B.C., who made it into Dallas with his father before the snow began to fall. ''It's just pouring down snow. Are we still at home, or have we left? We didn't drink that much last night, did we?''
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning Friday for Arlington, home of the $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will play this weekend for the NFL title. Forecasters expect a mostly sunny Super Bowl Sunday with highs in the 40s, and organizers said last week that the stadium's retractable roof will be closed.
The weather was causing travel problems for die-hard fans on Friday, expected to be the busiest day for travel to the Dallas area ahead of the game.
American Airlines and its affiliate, American Eagle, cancelled more than 300 flights that were supposed to land at its main hub, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Love Field, home to Southwest Airlines, was closed down before dawn because of snow on the runways before reopening to commercial and private flights by noon.
Sandu said his brother was still hoping to get in from Miami, while his friend essentially abandoned travel plans after an American Airlines flight from Vancouver was canceled. They had hoped to visit the site of JFK's assassination and said his brother had spent $1,500 on party tickets, but all those plans were on hold because of the weather.
Along with the fresh layer of snow, forecasters expect the subfreezing temperatures that hit the area Tuesday morning to linger through Saturday. The weather won't warm up long enough to melt all the snow and ice before kickoff, said Amber Elliott of the National Weather Service.
Snow and slush-covered roads across the city were making driving hazardous for locals and visitors alike, and the Texas Department of Transportation said keeping them clear was an ongoing slog, with crews working all night to improve safety.
"It was a challenge to keep up when the snow kept coming this morning," said spokeswoman Jodi Hodges. "We're definitely going to have to go back over the highways we plowed.''
Dallas was feeling the chill with the mercury resting at about 20 degrees Friday, forcing organizers of at least one celebrity-filled Super Bowl event to move their Saturday celebrations inside. One hotel gift shop was selling ski hats and scarves alongside the usual cowboy hats.
But the chilly temperatures were not expected to faze the teams competing in the real event, nor their hardy fans, who are used to cooler climates; the temperature Friday in Pittsburgh stood at 20 Friday, while Green Bay was a slightly lower 17.
''We're kind of used to inclement weather,'' said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. ''At least from my perspective, it hasn't changed how we've worked at all.''
Asked if the poor weather could affect future Super Bowl bids in North Texas - and perhaps elsewhere - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out that the conditions this year have been exceptional.
''We've had a winter to remember. Some would say to forget,'' Goodell said, noting that much of the nation ground to a halt because of this week's storm. "It's going to be a great weekend for us, and the weather's getting better."
The Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in Indianapolis next year and in the open-air New Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey in 2014.
American Airlines said it is doing all it can to ensure football fans make it to Dallas, regardless of the weather. American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said the carrier added 12 extra flights from Pittsburgh and airports near Green Bay for people coming to the game.
''We are putting extra effort to operate our flights in from Chicago today to keep the Super Bowl-oriented traffic moving,'' he said.
Neighboring Oklahoma, still recovering from up to 20 inches of snow earlier this week, braced for yet more. National Weather Service meteorologist Cheryl Sharp in Norman said snow began falling about 2:30 a.m. Friday and total accumulation could reach three to four inches in southeastern Oklahoma. Roads in the area are slick and yet more snow was forecast for Sunday.
Freezing rain meanwhile coated roads in North Dakota, leading to dozens of accidents. Rain and sleet also caused havoc further south, making roads across Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi slick and leading to at least five fatal traffic accidents.
In Milwaukee, where there was nary a single cloud in the sunny skies over Mitchell International Airport on Friday, Packers fans found themselves delayed but not completely downhearted.
Andy Willms, a 51-year-old attorney from Grafton, Wis., whose flight to Dallas had already been pushed back by five hours, said he was planning ahead for the worst-case scenario.
''If this flight gets canceled I'll start driving down tonight,'' Willms said. "Compared to what we just went through, there's a big difference between 5 inches and 2 feet."
James Jennings, 78, was scheduled to fly out of Milwaukee Friday afternoon with his 44-year-old son. They were taking a charter flight as part of a package for which they paid a total of $25,000.
Jennings, a criminal lawyer from Norridge, Ill., said he had absolutely no doubt that the flight would leave as scheduled.
''At $12,500 a ticket, are you kidding me? They'd get Evel Knievel to fly that thing."
Associated Press writers Paul Weber in Corpus Christi, Texas; Dave Koenig, Terry Taylor and Diana Heidgerd in Dallas; Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee; and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.