Hard freeze, rain create havoc for motorists
Southeast Texas’ coldest weather of 2014 might be tapering off as the weekend progresses, but the havoc brought about by temperatures that dipped below 25 degrees in some areas is still being felt by law enforcement agencies tasked with keeping the area’s icy roads and bridges safe from speeding motorists.
In the entire 13-county area administered by the Department of Public Safety troopers in Southeast Texas, there were more than 140 calls for assistance due to collisions as a result of icy roads that began frosting over Thursday, Jan. 23, and into Wednesday Jan. 29.
Trooper Stephanie Davis, a DPS spokesperson, said drivers in Southeast Texas simply don’t drive in wintry weather.
“It’s difficult for us because people aren’t used to it,” Davis said. “So when it happens, there are a lot of motorists who don’t know how to maneuver in that.”
Davis said Texas motorists need to slow down if – or when – the next freeze comes.
“Last Friday was a testament to that: just the sheer number of crashes, the sheer number of people sliding off roadways because of the ice,” Davis said. “If you don’t have to be on the road, stay at home.”
Closer to home, the Beaumont Police Department was out in full force and manned its emergency response center at all times to combat the frozen sleet and ice that fell through much of the week.
BPD Sgt. Rob Flores posted numerous updates on BPD’s website for motorists, keeping the public up to date on which bridge closures would be keeping them from their normal routes to businesses and homes in Beaumont.
There was at least one fatality reported in Beaumont on Friday, Jan. 24.
“In Beaumont alone, we had over 100 crashes in a 24-hour period within the city limits,” Flores said in an interview. “All of those were minor with no injuries with the exception of the one that occurred that evening on Cardinal Drive. He hit a patch of ice, spun and he had two passengers, and they walked away. The driver wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, so he was ejected. He was killed. It’s possible he would have walked away had he had his seatbelt on.”
Many bridges and overpasses in the area were closed and will likely be the same if Beaumont were to have another freeze. And elevated freeways were closed within the city limits of Beaumont.
Bridges closed included the Rainbow Bridge connecting Bridge City to Port Arthur and the MLK Bridge connecting Port Arthur with Pleasure Island, according to TxDOT. The Purple Heart/Neches River Bridge was passable through much of the freeze, according to Flores and TxDOT worked around the clock to make that possible.
All of Beaumont’s bridges and roads were back open to motorists by about 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29 — if only slightly dustier from copious amounts of freeze rock and magnesium chloride TxDOT trucks laid to combat the ice and sleet.
For now, it seems as though Southeast Texans will enjoy a warmer weekend with temperatures in the low ’70s. But if another freeze comes before spring, Flores said drivers should follow a few tips to keep themselves and their loved ones safe on the roadways.
Those tips include starting your commute early, always wearing a seatbelt, refraining from using cruise control, increasing one’s following distance, and especially, reducing one’s speed.
“Remember that the posted speed limit is for normal driving conditions, not the type we’re experiencing now,” Flores said.
After a long shift Tuesday, Jan. 28 in the midst of Beaumont’s coldest weather this year, Flores joked his work was far from over.
“I’m going into hour number 11 at work and hour number 26 of no sleep,” Flores said. “So I’ll get off here and get a couple hours of sleep and go right back out at it again.”
Beaumont ISD delayed classes until 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 24, and canceled classes altogether on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 28-29. Lamar University and the Lamar Institute of Technology canceled classes Jan. 24 and Jan. 28. Classes were delayed until 1 p.m. Jan. 29