Update: As of Saturday afternoon, event organizers have canceled outdoor festivities for New Year's Eve in Fort Worth's Sundance Square. Event officials said this does not affect indoor events at the plaza's various venues.
Event officials released the following statement:
Due to forecasted extreme temperatures, possible freezing precipitation and 20 mph winds, Sundance Square will cancel OUTDOOR New Year's Eve activities planned for the plaza. This will NOT impact all the fun indoor events planned at Four Day Weekend, Scat Jazz Lounge, Bass Performance Hall, restaurants and private events in Sundance Square. Have a safe and Happy New Year!
Fox 4 News will continue to monitor for any updates on any other outdoor activities this weekend.
Original: From treating the roadways to extending hours at homeless shelters, North Texas officials are preparing for the potential of icy weather.
Transportation officials are urging people to stay off the roads if icy precipitation makes its way to North Texas this weekend. There’s also an urgent push to get the homeless into shelters before the freezing cold arrives. Even first responders have to think ahead and get their vehicles ready to travel on icy roads.
Roadways and Public Transportation
TxDOT crews have already started pre-treating the roads across the area ahead of the of the Arctic blast. Airports and public transportation services are keeping a close eye on it, too.
Crews are hurrying to brine main highway lanes, bridges and overpasses. Officials are still unsure what exactly we'll get— if anything. But they don't want to too late, especially with about 10,000 miles of road to cover with the anti-icing solution.
“Anytime we get an event like this, we always want to prepare for the worst and plan for the best,” said TxDOT spokesperson Ryan Lafontaine. “Don't leave anything to chance.”
Amplifying the need for dry roads is the busy holiday weekend. TripAdvisor expects 21% of people to travel for New Year’s Eve.
“We know this is a holiday weekend. There is never a good time for an event like this,” Lafontaine said. “But the one thing we would tell drivers is if you don't have to be on the roads, by all means, stay home.”
Airports are ready, too. DFW Airport practiced its snow and ice clearing equipment in July. The airport recently bought $21 million in new equipment to keep the airport operating through winter storms.
DART is keeping an eye on the weather, too. Last week, it did a tabletop exercise to prepare for a winter weather event. New Year’s Eve is a busy night for its buses, rail and TRE service, which is free from 6 until the end of service.
“The plan is obviously to continue that no matter what,” said DART spokesperson Mark Ball. “So if there is foul weather, DART might be the choice for the public to be able to safely commute back and forth.”
DART does have ice-cutting tools to place on rail vehicles to clear ice. It could also run trains all night to keep lines clear. In a worst-case scenario, rail could be suspended with buses filling in the routes. For now, it's too early to tell what will happen.
“The key at the moment is that we're monitoring it and we have people that are over the weekend aware that they're on call,” Ball said. “And if something happens, they'll be coming in to help out.”
DART plans to give a heads up for any changes 6 to 8 hours before the service day starts. If the weather changes suddenly, that long of a heads up might not happen.
As for the roadways, TxDOT started brining on Thursday and says the brine is typically good for 7-10 days. They're confident it'll still be around no matter when, or if, the winter weather hits.
Housing the Homeless
More volunteers are working at the homeless shelters this weekend since some are having to change their hours.
Austin Street Center and other shelters have opened early. They're preparing to keep people inside longer during daylight hours when they are typically sent out.
"Our maximum capacity is 405,” explained Robert Monroe with the shelter. “We expect to be full every night."
Austin Street is part of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. It’s one of five major shelters downtown that work to combine and coordinate their efforts during inclement weather events.
"We have a partnership with other shelters for people we are not able to shelter because we are full at night,” explained Dustin Perkins. “We have other shelters who come and pick them up so they don't have to spend the night on the streets."
Irving's Bear Creek Community Church offers one of the many smaller shelters. It lost its sanctuary to fire earlier in the week where it had been putting up homeless people. But the church is preparing different spaces now in its Fellowship Hall.
"Unless they burn down the whole building, we're going to find a way to put them somewhere,” explained Bear Creek Church Pastor Dennis Webb.
Not far from Austin Street Center is one of many homeless camps where, for whatever reason, there are people who won't come in from the cold.
"It is scary. People die out there. Some people don't come in,” said Denise Foster. “I know I wouldn't want to be out there outside. And there's people who live out there. I feel bad for them."
Shelter officials say because it's Friday, many working homeless people have gotten a paycheck and can afford to stay in a hotel for a night or two. But the longer the cold snap lasts, the heavier the demand. They fear they may be forced to turn people away simply for a lack of space to safely keep them inside.
First Responders Prepare Vehicles
Police and fire departments have to be on the road no matter the temperature or conditions. Besides making sure their vehicles are serviced and reliable, they have gear available to handle icy conditions. But instead of the bulky tire chains like the big rigs use, many use tire cables.
Cities like Fort Worth and Arlington already have their offices of emergency management looking at forecast models. One of their first concerns is their first responders.
Arlington police officers are weather-ready. Instead of chains, they'll have the more street-friendly tire cables for the more than 300 units on patrol.
“The basic goal is to make sure that our police vehicles can be on the streets even when it's not safe for the general public to be on the streets,” explained Brock Klein, Resource Management Supervisor for Arlington PD.
Whatever conditions develop, patrol officers will wait for a deputy chief to give the green light. Then, the service center gets busy.
"Sometimes, they get them four or five cars at a time. The city fleet facility is equipped to put on the tire cables as fast as they can,” Klein said. “It usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes per car to make sure that they can get those vehicles out on the street."
Fort Worth firefighters are already fully staffed for this weekend's weather.
"Whatever nature or man throws at us, we're going to be prepared for it,” said Kyle Clay with the Fort Worth Fire Department.
The department’s trucks will also use tire cables, same as cars but on a larger scale. The driver knows what to look for. And if things look slick, they can put on the cables in less than a minute to be ready to roll out."
Fire officials know people will try to stay warm and hope they do so safely.
“Slow down if there's ice,” Klein warned.
Fort Worth police are ready for whatever the weather brings: from tire cables and chains to all-wheel drive on its vehicles. Of course, all of them are hoping for a slow night.