Heavy rain and icy conditions are likely to stick around through most of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in parts of the central U.S. due to a slow-moving, complex weather system that's being blamed for at least 3 flash-flooding deaths.
"There's a pretty substantial shield of rain extending from parts of Texas across a lot of Oklahoma and into the mid-Mississippi Valley," said John Hart, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
The National Weather Service issued ice storm warnings in the Texas Panhandle and central Oklahoma that will remain in effect through noon Saturday, with up to a quarter or half-inch of ice expected to accumulate.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cody Boyd said road crews had been applying salt and sand since Thursday night, noting that roads there were slick and hazardous.
"It is really a weather event with a lot of different aspects," Boyd said Friday. "We definitely understand that people travel to see family and friends (for Thanksgiving), and have to travel back home. If people have to travel ... plan plenty of extra travel time and check conditions before they head out."
Freezing rain and strong winds have been blamed for several fatal accidents in Kansas and Texas since Thursday. The eastern half of Kansas is under a winter weather advisory until Saturday morning, with freezing rain and sleet expected.
No highways in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains were closed despite the icy conditions, but about 100 crashes had been reported as of Friday evening, said Trooper Cindy Barkley of the Texas Department of Public Safety office in Amarillo. She advised motorists to slow down, noting that state troopers "see people passing us all the time. It's so frustrating."
Forecasters have issued flash-flood watches and warnings from northeast Texas, eastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri and most of Arkansas.
Arctic cold air has plunged south into the Plains behind a sharp cold front. The shallow layer of below-freezing arctic air near ground level is sliding underneath a large plume of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, setting the stage for a wintry mess of freezing rain and sleet.
Freezing rain first developed in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving in parts of northeast Colorado, eastern Wyoming, Nebraska and southern Minnesota and has spread southward along with the advance of cold air.
Now, freezing rain has zeroed in on a part of the southern Plains from eastern New Mexico to West Texas, central to western Oklahoma and southern Kansas.
In North Texas, three people died after their cars were washed away in rapid floodwaters. At least one other person remained missing early Saturday, as conditions were too dangerous to search for a 70-year-old woman whose car was swept off a bridge in Fort Worth. A local sheriff's deputy was swept away trying to rescue her, but a dive team later found and rescued the deputy, who was clinging to a tree.
Already, a total 55.23 inches of rain has been recorded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport this year, topping the annual rainfall record of 53.54 inches set in 1991.
Much of central and western Arkansas could see 5 to 7 inches of rain through Sunday, the weather service said, while the Ouachita Mountain region could get more than 8 inches.
Associated Press writer Ken A. Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.