A blizzard swept across Oklahoma on Tuesday resulting in one death and isolated power outages, damaging a casino roof and stranding everything from passenger cars to emergency vehicles. The weather closed roads, airports, schools and businesses. Frigid air and snowy conditions will cause more closures today. With an onslaught reminiscent of Christmas Eve 2009, Tuesday’s storm dumped about a foot of snow in some parts of central Oklahoma, with northeastern portions of the state getting even more. But this time, people seemed to heed warnings and storm forecasts, with many staying home and off the roads. “We know that’s playing in our favor,” said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for State Emergency Management. For those who did venture out, drifting snow and slick roads made for nightmarish driving conditions. A sledding accident was the first reported death related to the blizzard. Oklahoma City Police Sgt. Greg Driskill said a 20-year-old woman died about 4:30 p.m. near Lake Stanley Draper, after she was thrown off a sled being pulled by a vehicle. The sled veered off the road and flung the woman, who was pronounced dead at the scene in the 8700 block of Stanley Draper Drive. The victim’s name was not released. National Weather Service meteorologist Forrest Mitchell said 12.1 inches of snow fell at Will Rogers World Airport, a daily and monthly record, and the second largest snowfall in the city in one day. The Christmas Eve blizzard of 2009 saw 13.5 inches of snow in one day. Mitchell said today smashed the all-time daily record for snowfall on any day in February. The previous record was 6.5 inches on Feb. 7, 1986. Records date back to November 1890.
Cold to stayAs the worst of the storm began to lumber out of the state, officials cautioned that the bitter cold would remain for days, and so could many of the problems. “This is not going to be a one-day event; it’s going to be a multiple-day event and we need patience,” Ooten said. Highs were not expected to get above freezing until sometime Friday. Many schools were closed again today. Northeastern parts of the state have been hit hard. Snow totals included 19 inches (drifts to 6 feet) near Owasso and 17 inches at Hominy. Winds of 39 mph, with gusts of 46 were recorded, in Oklahoma City. Guymon at one time reported minus-7 degrees. At Boise City the wind chill dipped to minus-36 at 9:05 a.m., the coldest in the history of the Mesonet system. By the early evening, it was 9 degrees in Oklahoma City. Fourteen inches were reported in Tulsa, setting several records for the city, according to the weather service. Across the state, activity on Tuesday was not so much paralyzed as hunkered down since officials had taken pre-emptive actions to close schools, businesses, courthouses and many other government offices. The Northeastern part of the state got the worst of it. “I’m in a ditch,” Tulsa police spokesman Leland Ashley said while talking by phone to a reporter. The Tulsa World newspaper announced it would be forced to cancel a print edition Wednesday. Snow buildup collapsed a portion of roof at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the Tulsa area, causing a gas leak but no injuries. As the storm progressed, the number of vehicles getting stuck, especially on highway ramps, rose rapidly, and road closings grew with them. A portion of the Turner Turnpike — westbound lanes from Tulsa to Stroud — and the Will Rogers Turnpike, the main artery to the Missouri border, had been closed, as had Interstate 40 near Henryetta in east-central Oklahoma and Interstate 35 in the Arbuckle Mountains in southern Oklahoma. The Indian Nation, Creek and Muskogee turnpikes also were closed either entirely or in stretches, state troopers said. Flights at airports in Oklahoma City and Tulsa were canceled most of the day. Officials at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport planned to resume operations Wednesday morning. “It’s going to take a little longer time to dig out of this,” Oklahoma City airport spokeswoman Karen Carney said. “It’s probably going to be a couple days before we start seeing schedules return to normal.” Even where roads remained open, officials warned that travel was hazardous, as temperatures dipped below zero in some areas.
Travelers’ troublesThose who ventured out had to be prepared. Jesse Bensinger, a bank facilities manager, carried two shovels and a dozen bags of ice melt in the back of his pickup as he helped a driver shovel out of the Edmond Post Office parking lot. “I was driving by and knew I couldn’t leave him here,” he said. Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks said at times he could only see two feet in front of his vehicle because of the blowing snow. “It is a total white-out,” he said. “There are drifts on the streets and it is still coming down.” In Norman, police had assisted a few stranded motorists to get their vehicles moving, “but as far as emergency calls go, it’s been pretty quiet,” Capt. Tom Easley said. Steve Taft, owner of a Norman tow service, described the biggest problem: “Right now, it’s just the dummies trying to drive in it.” Power outages were limited, with up to 4,000 Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers without power at one point. The company had pared that down to fewer than 400 by afternoon. For those needing a refuge from the bitter cold, shelters opened across the state and some hotels offered discount rates. Cody Keesee spent the day rescuing cattle on his Holdenville ranch, including a bull that fell in a pond. “It’s not a bad day, it’s just a tough day,” he said. Contributing: Staff Writers Robert Medley, Michael Baker, Michael Kimball, Matt Patterson, Matt Dinger, Jennifer Palmer, Bryan Dean, Jane Glenn Cannon, Richard Mize and Jay Marks