LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A winter storm packing freezing rain, sleet and snow slid across Oklahoma and into Arkansas on Christmas Day, setting off a 21-vehicle pileup that tied up two cross-country interstates and killing an Oklahoma woman who was riding in a car on a slippery highway.
Forecasters posted blizzard warnings for northeastern Arkansas, expecting up to 10 inches of snow and 40 mph wind gusts in a band from near Little Rock to the Missouri Bootheel. A blizzard warning for southwestern Oklahoma was dropped — but was replaced by a wind-chill advisory that warned of readings of minus-11.
A multivehicle accident near downtown Oklahoma City slowed traffic on Interstates 35 and 40. A 28-year-old woman died in a crash on U.S. 412 near Fairview.
Power outages mounted rapidly in Arkansas as freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines that snapped as winds gusted above 30 mph. At least 100,000 customers lost electricity. As a changeover from freezing rain to snow swept eastward, the chances of further power disruptions increased.
The snow line reached Little Rock early Tuesday evening, marking the first measurable Christmas Day snowfall in the capital since 1926, according to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.
Interstate 40 west of Little Rock became slick, forcing numerous motorists to try to find shelter for the night. Jerry Wall, a worker at Love's Travel Stop in Morrilton, ordinarily a 45-minute drive from Little Rock, said the restaurant was packed about 5 p.m.
"All of our booths are full. I can't see an empty parking spot. They're parking on the sides, across the street," Wall said. "It had been sleeting and it's snowing now. It's coming down pretty good."
The business reserved nearby hotel rooms for its workers, Wall said.
In Oklahoma, the large pileup began about 3 a.m. Tuesday when a semitrailer jackknifed on I-40 on a bridge over the Oklahoma River, state Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said. Other vehicles hit the semi and other semis slid into the vehicles, sandwiching them, she said. In all, there were 10 separate crashes involving 21 vehicles and three tractor-trailers.
"Some of them, it took the entire top of the car off, like they slid under a semi," Randolph said.
Amanda Sue Goodman died in a crash in Major County. The OHP report said the two-lane road was snowy about 10 a.m. The SUV Goodman was riding in collided with a tractor-trailer. Another adult and a 4-year-old child in the SUV were ejected from the vehicle and had head, arm and internal injuries.
The snow had largely stopped in Oklahoma by late afternoon, and highway officials said early Tuesday evening that roads in Oklahoma City were clear, though motorists should still be wary of slick spots. But the Oklahoma Department of Transportation advised people to stay off the roads, some of which were slick and had snow drifts.
The state's snowfall totals were modest — from a tenth of an inch to 2 inches, according to Daryl Williams, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Norman.
"The wind is blowing around so hard that it's going to be hard to get any accurate readings for snowfall totals," Williams said. Strong winds were forecast overnight, creating blizzard-like conditions with blowing snow and wind chills falling into the single digits, particularly in south-central and southwest Oklahoma, he said.
As the system reached Arkansas, rain fell and temperatures dropped, making for hazardous driving conditions in the western part of the state, especially from Fayetteville southeast.
A blizzard warning remained in place for northeast Arkansas, where National Weather Service forecaster Joe Goudsward said 10 inches of snow could accumulate. In Little Rock and much of the rest of central and north Arkansas, 3 to 6 inches of snow was forecast, with greater amounts in higher elevations.
The weather service reported late Tuesday that a foot of snow had fallen in the southwestern Arkansas town of Vandervoort.
The storm also brought power outages to central Arkansas. Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest electric utility, said about 92,000 customers were in the dark, and about 40,000 of those were in the Little Rock area.
Garland County had about 11,000 customers in the dark, and First Electric Cooperative says there are more than 8,000 customers out across 11 central Arkansas counties. About 5,000 customers each were out in Hot Spring, Jefferson and Saline counties, on the heels of last week's wind storm that knocked out electricity.