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Super Bowl: Dallas weather complicates plans for fans, business owners

By Mark Maske and Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 12:52 AM

DALLAS - An overnight snowstorm brought air and ground traffic to a near standstill in the Dallas area Friday, frustrating thousands of fans trying to get into town for Sunday's Super Bowl and leaving many local business owners cursing their misfortune two days before the National Football League's annual showcase event.

"It's one thing that it snows and we have the ice," said Vance Martin, the owner of Lili's Bistro in Fort Worth. "But it's another when it happens in this part of the country. We don't handle it well. We don't drive well. We don't anticipate it well, and we just don't get out on it. It just has a stifling effect on the entire Metroplex."

The overnight storm was only the latest to hit the Dallas region this week. The ice, snow and a run of uncharacteristically sub-freezing temperatures forced the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers to move their practices indoors; some Super Bowl-related events were moved under cover as well.

On Friday, the streets of Dallas, which had not been completely cleared of ice and snow from storms earlier in the week, were covered by a fresh layer of snow that brought traffic to a crawl. Nearly 900 flights into and out of the Dallas area were canceled, according to the flight-tracking service, FlightAware, and disruptions in air travel continued into the evening. Snowfall totals in the region ranged from two to eight inches.

Forecasts were for a possible mix of rain and snow on Sunday, with the high temperature about 41. Not that it would really matter. The retractable roof at Cowboys Stadium, the palatial $1.3 billion stadium that opened less than two years ago in nearby Arlington, is to be closed for the game.

"The stadium still has a roof on it," said Bill Lively, the president and chief executive of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV host committee. "We had great plans. We just have to execute them as well as we can. I saw the sun a few minutes ago and we all celebrated for 15 seconds."

Six people were injured Friday by falling ice and snow at the stadium, officials said. An NFL spokesman said the league had no details about who the people were or what they were doing. The Dallas Morning News reported that those injured were taken to local hospitals and two were listed as stable while the other four suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

More than 90,000 people are expected to attend the game, with thousands of others expected to watch on video boards outside the stadium. An estimated 106.5 million television viewers watched last year's Super Bowl held in Miami between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.

While many Steelers and Packers fans were already in town, the storm disrupted the travel plans of countless others heading to Dallas for the game.

Dallas Love Field Airport saw no commercial flights until Friday afternoon. Crews at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were able to keep the runways open, but de-icing every plane kept all morning flights grounded.

Airport officials were hopeful the weather will allow a full schedule of flights this weekend. "Yesterday, today and tomorrow are the biggest arrival days for expected Super Bowl traffic," said David Magana, a spokesman for DFW Airport, "and we expect to handle about 40 additional charter airliners, about 40 added airline segments, and a healthy supply of corporate aircraft at our new DFW Corporate Aviation facilty."

In Pittsburgh, Susan Satira was traveling on a flight scheduled for 7 a.m., headed to her first Super Bowl with her husband, her father and her father's girlfriend. They arrived at the airport around 5 a.m., and were still waiting to leave Pittsburgh just after noon.

"It's actually pretty calm," she said. "People are reading, sleeping. People feel like we'll get there eventually. We expected to have had weather in Pittsburgh. We never expected that we wouldn't be able to get there because they were snowed in in Dallas."

At Reagan National Airport in Washington, clutches of travelers - some wearing Packers sweatshirts and caps, others in Steelers garb - were at the American Airlines ticket counter Friday morning seeking alternate routes to Dallas after a number of flights to the city were canceled.

Some travelers were considering extreme measures. John Goss, a 28-year old Steelers fan who grew up in Western Pennsylvania and now lives in Northwest D.C., said he bought tickets to the game with his cousin last week. His flight was scheduled to leave from National at 11:50 a.m. Saturday. But as word of snow and cancellations rolled in on Friday, Goss said he considered driving to Dallas to meet his cousin, who is already there.

"At this point I'm actually really concerned, A, what I'm gonna do to get down there, and B, what he would do with this extra ticket," Goss said in a telephone interview. "I just don't think they're used to the snow down there. A couple inches for them is like a foot for us."

Lively said many fans already were in the Dallas area Thursday because many hotels required a four-night minimum stay. He said the weather "will have an impact on the total number of people who are here, no doubt. But we're hopeful it's not a great impact."

Organizers projected the Super Bowl would have an approximately $500 million economic impact on the area in both direct and indirect spending, and Lively said he was optimistic that figure wouldn't be greatly affected.

Some business owners weren't as hopeful. A Pittsburgh native, Martin, the owner of the bistro in Fort Worth, added a "Roethlis-burger" to his menu - a half-pound of ground meat topped with everything from fries to jalapenos - this week. It was named after towering Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Sales have been "very modest," he said, and he didn't even bother to open his restaurant Tuesday. Martin said even with a bustling weekend, his sales figures will only be 20 to 25 percent of his projections.

The Super Bowl annually attracts up to 150,000 people to a host city, so local businesses had huge hopes for this week.

"I feel for the people here. I know how much time went into this," New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "It's just bad luck. But a lot of people showed up, so it looks like the event is bigger than the weather conditions."

Next year's Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in a city, Indianapolis, with cold winter weather and an indoor stadium. The 2014 game is to be at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. That stadium has no roof.

Super Bowls are awarded to cities by votes of the 32 team owners.

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder hopes to bring a future Super Bowl to the D.C. area. He said Friday he hopes this week's weather in Dallas won't dissuade the other owners from awarding Super Bowls to places where winter conditions can be less than ideal.

"Today obviously looking out the window, you say, 'Wow, where are we? In Fargo, North Dakota?' " Snyder said. "Right now, let's wait until Monday and you guys tell us. Do it that way, let the fans experience it and see if they have a great time. Hopefully it'll be a great game."

maskem@washpost.com maeser@washpost.com

Staff writers Barry Svrluga in Pittsburgh and Dan Steinberg and Matthew Vita in Washington contributed to this report.

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