The great white South Frigid temps make for a chilly Christmas

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Mother Nature delivered a bone-chilling Christmas to much of the nation Saturday, but holiday travelers made it out in droves despite record snow that shut down highways two days earlier in the central states.

South Texas awoke to a rare blanket of snow, when up to 13 inches shattered records for the region. The deep freeze brought Victoria, Texas, its first white Christmas in 86 years and snarled holiday plans for thousands of travelers.

The last time Victoria saw a measurable amount of snow was 1973, when a tenth of an inch fell. That's the same amount that fell on Christmas 1918, said Tony Merriman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"It's a miracle," proclaimed Hailey Koronczok, who was watching the snow fall as she worked at a Denny's. "Everybody's excited and shocked that it is snowing down here."

"It's totally snowed over," Tawnya Evans, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi, said Saturday. "It's unusual to see that here."

"A bunch of people are excited because it's a white Christmas."

The snow was expected to melt as temperatures warmed into the 30s and 40s throughout Christmas Day, but Evans said some of it could refreeze overnight.

An arctic front that swept through the Midwest hit Indiana and Kentucky particularly hard, bringing record snowfalls that snarled holiday travel and stopped last-minute Christmas shoppers in their tracks. More than a dozen traffic deaths and thousands of auto accidents have been blamed on the storm so far.

Conditions on Indiana highways were improving Saturday, two days after a winter storm dumped up to two feet of snow in some areas, followed by subzero temperatures.

The wintry mix caused hours-long delays on Interstate-65 about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky., on Friday, when several semitrailers were jackknifed or stuck.

Authorities reopened a portion of Interstate 64 from the Illinois state line to Evansville in southwestern Indiana Friday, a day after more than 100 stranded travelers were rescued from their snowbound vehicles, police said.

Parts of Louisiana saw a slightly white Christmas, and freezing rain, sleet and low temperatures forced state police to shut down interstates and state highways on Saturday.

With frigid temperatures forecast for Ohio on Saturday, some 275,000 homes and businesses -- about half of them in Columbus -- remained without power two days after the storm hit, and ice-covered tree branches kept falling onto power lines.

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