Authorities pleaded Monday with the public to stay off the roads in anticipation of today's snowstorm, which they fear could rival the 2009 Christmas Eve blizzard.
Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in all 77 Oklahoma counties ahead of the storm, while Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said he expects city crews will be unable to keep up with snow removal if the storm is as severe as predicted.
National Weather Service forecasters issued a blizzard warning for much of the state. Forecasts call for 10 to 12 inches of snow in parts of the state, including the Oklahoma City area, along with high winds, significant snow drifts and possible white-out conditions. Wind chills are expected to be 5 to 15 degrees below zero.
“This is apparently going to be a significant storm that I suspect is going to overwhelm our ability to deal with it,” Cornett said Monday. “I encourage people to stay off the roads tomorrow. If this is as bad as the Christmas Eve storm of 2009, we are probably going to be into a really tough situation into the weekend.”
Airport officials said nearly all morning flights out of Will Rogers World Airport were canceled.
City, county and state crews will be working to clear emergency snow routes and interstates around the clock, but that doesn't mean those roads will be clear and safe, officials said.
State Transportation Department spokeswoman Terri Angier said roads could be hazardous for days after the storm.
“The high winds they are forecasting for beyond tomorrow are really a concern,” Angier said. “It causes the snow that has been plowed on the side of the road to drift.”
The Oklahoma City Council meeting scheduled for this morning was canceled. Most city and county offices will be closed. Nonessential, or nonemergency, state employees are off in Canadian, Cleveland, Lincoln, Logan, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie Counties.
Essential employees are to report to work. Those include state troopers, hospital workers, prison guards and others in agencies that provide around-the-clock services.
“I would like to encourage employers to think really hard about having their employees come to work if it's not essential,” Cornett said. “We need people off the streets.”
Authorities said they hope people learned from the Christmas 2009 blizzard and will heed warnings to stay home.
One of the biggest problems emergency crews faced in that storm was a glut of abandoned vehicles that blocked emergency routes, preventing snowplows and salt trucks from getting through.
“It's only been about a year,” Angier said. “It's fresh in our minds. We're asking people to not go through that again.”
Oklahoma City Streets Superintendent Mike DeGiacomo said people shouldn't expect their neighborhood streets will get attention from road crews during the storm.
The city doesn't have the manpower or the equipment to clear every road, which is why there are designated emergency routes.
“Our primary purpose is to get the traveling public down the emergency snow routes,” DeGiacomo said. “Those are the places we are going to concentrate our efforts. Once the storm hits, we will adjust as we need to. Do we just need a little salt? Do we need to plow? There are lots of variables.”
Contributing: Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau