HOUSTON — Houston had its earliest snowfall on record Friday, with several inches accumulating in counties southwest of the city.
The previous record for early snow in Houston was Dec. 10 in 1944 and again last year, said Charles Roeseler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Snow is rare in the nation's fourth largest city. In the past 15 years, it has snowed four times, including Friday.
Accumulations of 3 to 4 inches of snow were reported in counties southwest of Houston. The city got a half inch or less of snow, and its suburbs reported 1 to 2 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
"It's going to continue to snow through the afternoon," Roeseler said in the early afternoon. "We'll pick up another inch or so across parts of Houston."
The city and other parts of Southeast Texas were under a winter storm warning that was expected to remain until Friday evening. Other parts of Texas, including El Paso and Dallas, also had snowfall this week.
Many government offices and businesses around Houston shut down early Friday, said Francisco Sanchez, a spokesman for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Houston Mayor Bill White directed city departments to send nonessential employees home Friday afternoon.
The Houston school district did not shorten its school day Friday, but many other districts and colleges around the area sent students home early.
"We're trying to make sure people stay off the roadways," Sanchez said. "We want to get them home earlier today."
Many Houstonians took advantage of the snow day to venture outside and play. Parks were filled with adults and children making snowmen, engaging in snowball fights and posing for photographs.
"We usually like to go to Colorado for some snow, but this year it came to us," said Teri Mims, 36, as she played in the snow with her 6- and 9-year-old daughters in a north Houston park.
The snow wasn't the biggest worry for officials.
It was supposed to stop by Friday evening, but then temperatures were expected to fall below freezing, with lows in the 20s. The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for 22 Southeast Texas counties that was to be in effect until Saturday morning.
"We're really concerned with what happens overnight with the snow melting on roadways and turning into ice," Sanchez said.
Roads and elevated bridges in Houston and other parts of Southeast Texas were being covered with deicing materials to ensure they were safe to travel, but drivers needed to prepare for some roads to be closed, Sanchez said.
The forecast for Saturday was mostly sunny skies and highs in the lower 40s to upper 50s. Temperatures were expected to climb to near 60 by Sunday.
The snow would likely be gone by Saturday, Roeseler said.