Shoppers swarmed grocery stores, road crews mobilized heavy equipment, airlines canceled flights and young people crossed their fingers for a blizzard that never came to Oklahoma City last week.
Then the city escaped significant snowfall.
The massive storm dumped more than a foot of snow Monday and Tuesday in northwest Oklahoma and brought 6 inches as close as Kingfisher County. But temperatures in the Oklahoma City area remained above freezing, defying winter storm forecasts and leaving many with conflicting feelings of relief and disappointment.
Business owners and emergency management personnel said the false alarm was taken quite seriously by thousands of area residents, in part because of memories of a 2009 Christmas Eve blizzard that left many people stranded in their vehicles or shut in their homes.
“We deal with what we call the law of recency,” said David Barnes, Oklahoma County emergency management director. “The more recent we have had a situation, the more we are likely to remember it and prepare for it.”
Rush for groceries
Much like the May 3, 1999, tornado outbreak caused many Oklahomans to take tornado warnings more seriously, the memory of being buried in a foot of snow stuck with people, Barnes said.
Crest Foods operations manager Eric Lollar said the rush for groceries whenever meteorologists predict snow and blizzard-like storms has increased since the big storm in 2009.
“There always has been a rush of going to the store when cold or bad weather is being predicted, but not nearly as bad as it has been in the last couple of years,” he said.
The stores typically stock up in the winter on food such as stew meat, beans, rice and canned chili, along with cold weather items like ice melt and car scrapers.
“We keep an eye on the forecast, and we can get a truck out every day except Sunday,” Lollar said. “We will order heavy to prepare for it so everybody can get what they need, and we try to accommodate everybody with a heavy stock.”
Emergency managers recommend families keep nonperishable food, water and supplies that can last at least 72 hours. Barnes said he hopes people who bought those items before last week's storm keep them on hand so they can avoid a last-minute rush next time.
Fear of complacency
While most Oklahoma City residents probably were relieved they weren't snowed in, Barnes said he has heard a note of disappointment that the forecasts were wrong.
“I've had that discussion with several people,” Barnes said. “I'll agree I am disappointed we didn't get snow. Everyone likes a little snow. But I'm glad we didn't get the blizzard conditions.”
Businesses and college campuses closed early and many events were canceled Monday as people anticipated hazardous road conditions during the evening commute.
Metro schools remained open, though, and thousands of schoolchildren who expected they would get the day off Tuesday were disappointed.
Bethany Middle School students Katey Palmer, 14, and Peyton Malasja, 14, said even teachers and administrators were talking Monday about school likely being closed Tuesday.
“All the teachers had told us ‘well if you have a snow day, we won't have homework' and all that stuff, so I was really excited,” Malasja said. “They told us we were going to have a blizzard and have eight inches, and then we woke up and there was nothing on the ground. I felt really lied to.”
Palmer said she was planning on spending her snow day at a friend's house.
“I went to bed late just to be ready for the snow day in the morning, and there wasn't a snow day,” Palmer said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Barnes said a line of freezing air stopped just short of where it was expected. Those west of the line got snow. Areas east of the line got rain.
“The line that separated the snow and the rain lingered just west of the metro pretty much the entire day,” Barnes said. “If that line would have shifted 30 miles to the east, northwest Oklahoma County could have gotten 3 to 6 inches of snow.
“That type of thing is very difficult to forecast.”
Meteorologists and emergency managers now have to worry a false alarm this time will cause people not to take the next warning seriously.
Barnes said that is a line forecasters always struggle with. They try to be as accurate as possible to give people the information they need to stay safe, while not causing undue panic, he said.
“Apathy is the biggest enemy we have as far as preparedness goes in emergency management,” Oklahoma County's David Barnes said.
“I think people are paying better attention, and that's a really good thing.”
Everyone likes a little snow. But I'm glad we didn't get the blizzard conditions.”
Oklahoma County emergency management director