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Tue December 10, 2013
Texas Ice Storm Plus Sand, Traffic Equals 'Cobblestone Ice'
Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 11:30 am
The ice storm that's blanketed North Texas streets and highways has spawned a new name: cobblestone ice.
Cobblestone ice — sounds poetic, doesn't it?
Not if you've had to drive through it.
So what is it?
Ryan LaFontaine of the Texas Department of Transportation says cobblestone ice is a combination of ice accumulation and sand laid down by TxDOT and city trucks — which traffic compresses together to form a cobblestone-type surface, a thick layer of frozen ruts and potholes. In some places, it's several inches deep.
It's superbumpy ice that jolts you as you drive across it.
It doesn't help matters that the ice has been melting and refreezing.
LaFontaine says it's not easy to get rid of it.
"It has to be kind of busted up and become a slushy substance in order for us to plow it to the side," he said.
TxDOT crews from the Dallas and Tarrant regions are out breaking up and removing as much of the cobblestone ice as they can during the day before it freezes up again at night.
Many normal snowplows have had problems removing the ice. So TxDOT has had to bring in motor graders from across the state to chew through the thick, stubborn stuff.
A tough time for truck drivers
Franchester Smith, a trucker, has been stuck in the ice at the Love's truck spot in Denton. She drove in from Atlanta. She's ready to move on.
Cobblestone ice, she says, is the worst.
"You got all these dents," Smith said. "It just makes it really bad. Where you think it's a pothole, but it's not. It's all the ice and snow that froze over it. You're rolling over it and rolling over it."
Eduardo Ruvalcaba, another trucker, has been stuck at a truck stop, the Travel Center of America, on Interstate 35 north of Denton since Thursday.
"It's not pretty," he said. "There was a coach bus that lost a tire because it was getting beat up so bad. All the truckers, that's what they've been complaining — our equipment is taking a beating over this."
Jon Gandelman, who's been driving trucks for 15 years, says he's used to winter storms. Usually, you try to plow through. But with these road conditions? It's another story. He arrived in Denton after being stuck in Oklahoma a couple of days. What's he been doing?
"A lot of sitting, a lot of ice. I'm from California and we chain up all the time to go across the mountain passes. That's just snow. When it's ice, you don't go anywhere."
'Moguls for cars'
"Moguls for cars," is how Larry Mowry described it. Mowry's the chief meteorologist at KTVT (Channel 11).
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Travel has been a nightmare along the East Coast today. Thick blankets of snow have snarled roads, closed schools and government offices and delayed thousands of flights. In north Texas, the ice storm from last weekend is still causing trouble. Most highways are clear but a stubborn storm remnant called cobblestone ice has cropped up. It's causing problems on interstate bridges, overpasses and off-ramps. Stella Chavez of member station KERA in Dallas reports.
STELLA CHAVEZ, BYLINE: This is what driving over cobblestone ice sounds like. This mix of chunky ice and sand that's frozen and unfrozen and frozen again makes it feel like you're driving over a cobblestone street. But these are deep, frozen ruts and it's super jarring. Many truckers, like Eduardo Ruvacalba, try to avoid it as much as possible.
EDUARDO RUVACALBA: It's not pretty. There was a coach bus that lost a tire because, I mean, it just was - it was getting beat up so bad. All the truckers have - that's what they've been complaining, you know, that our equipment is taking a beating over this.
CHAVEZ: The cobblestone ice is a combination of accumulating ice and sand that's been put down to break it up. Traffic compresses the mixture and it turns into these deep potholes. It's been difficult for transportation officials to break up the icy mess. Jon Gandelman's been driving trucks for 15 years and says he's used to winter storms. Usually, he tries to plow through but these road conditions are another story. He arrived in Texas after being stuck in Oklahoma for a couple of days.
JON GANDELMAN: A lot of sitting, a lot of ice. I'm from California and we chain up all the time to go across the mountain passes. That's just snow. When it's ice like this, you don't go anywhere.
CHAVEZ: And not going anywhere means goods weren't delivered on time. Many grocery stores ran out of milk, bread and produce ahead of the ice and have been slow to restock. At another truck stop in Denton, Franchester Smith had been trapped for a day and said she'd had enough. Before last weekend, she'd never heard of freezing fog but the worst, she says, is cobblestone ice.
FRANCHESTER SMITH: You got all these dents and it just makes it really bad. Where you would think it was a pothole but it's not. It's all the ice and snow that froze over and you're rolling over it, rolling over it.
CHAVEZ: There's been a bit of good news today. Some of the trapped truckers have been able to depart. But even though the weather has improved during the day, temperatures plummet at night, starting the freezing process all over again. For NPR News, I'm Stella Chavez in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.