Oklahoma is beginning a slow thaw after a deep freeze Monday that kept Oklahoma City schoolchildren at home, some motorists frustrated, the homeless population in jeopardy, and left even livestock trembling.
Temperatures in the metro area did not rise above freezing and the National Weather Service reported two record lows across the state — Tulsa at minus 2 degrees and Ponca City at minus 3 degrees.
Oklahoma City had a low of 6 degrees at Will Rogers World Airport, and the Oklahoma Mesonet's Oklahoma City-North location, at Broadway Extension and Wilshire, had a wind chill low of minus 8 degrees.
Oklahoma City Public Schools were closed, as interim superintendent Dave Lopez said the subfreezing temperatures were a cause for student safety concerns. At least seven outgoing flights were canceled from Oklahoma City because winter weather in the Midwest and Northeast, and eight flights into Oklahoma City were canceled.
Kevin Brown, senior forecaster with the Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office, said Monday provided some of the coldest temperatures from the Canadian air mass that made its way into Oklahoma last weekend.
Forecasters expect a slow warm-up.
“Although we will be warmer tomorrow (Tuesday), the increasing south wind will still feel quite cold,” Brown said. “Wind chills Tuesday morning will start off as low, zero into the single digits.”
Car battery conundrum
The phone rang more than 100 times Monday morning at the Interstate All Battery Center on N Broadway Extension.
Below-freezing temperatures translated to above-average business for general manager Keith Moran.
Moran and 10 full-time employees spent the day swapping batteries for frustrated motorists. Moran said with little to no warning, old batteries drained by summer heat won't last long in subzero temperatures.
“The heat will damage batteries, but they'll keep working because the climate is just right and everything fires right off,” Moran said. “When it gets cold like this, all those fluids don't want to go. When you turn that key and it takes more than the battery has, it's done.”
Matt Heasley, a 32-year-old rancher from Pampa, Texas, was in Oklahoma City with his fiancee Monday morning. When he turned the key in the ignition of his 2003 diesel Dodge truck, his 4-year-old battery didn't have enough juice.
“The cold finally snapped it,” Heasley said. “But I didn't even know there was supposed to be snow on the ground, so I had no idea this was going to happen.”
Aside from the inconvenience of getting a jump from a fellow driver and making a quick stop at the battery center, Heasley said the process wasn't too stressful. But Moran said it's a problem that can be avoided with the right preparation.
“It's all about preventative maintenance,” Moran said. “There's never a convenient time for battery failure, so just continually get it checked.”
When Guy Rose left for work at 4:30 a.m. Monday for the hour-and-a-half drive from Agra to the Oklahoma National Stockyards, he didn't touch the heat dial in his pickup.
“That way,” Rose said. “I wasn't warm in my truck, and then I get out and get cold that much quicker.”
No heat, and definitely no coffee.
“Coffee will kill ya,” Rose said.
Rose is a cattleman at the stockyards, spending Monday morning sorting cattle for auction. He said loving his job is a necessity when the elements make what would be normal tasks difficult.
“(The cattle) don't eat, they don't drink, they aren't comfortable,” Rose said. “They're just like us ... It's tough on the livestock; it's tough on the people working it. You don't move as fast, alleys are iced over. It's just time-consuming.”
Rose estimated he would clock more than 18 hours of work Monday, wearing thick layers head to toe, including a silk scarf on his neck and bandanna on his face for much of the day.
“It's just part of the job, ya know?” Rose said.
Warden Flesner, a rancher from South Dakota who owns land east of Oklahoma City, was at the stockyards to potentially stock up on cattle. Was he fazed by the cold?
“No,” Flesner said. “This is a good day in South Dakota this time of year.”
At noon Monday, Calvin Lambert, 53, walked on a westbound sidewalk on NW 6 between Broadway and Robinson. Layered in a puffy blue jacket, a pullover, two shirts, sweatpants and a pair of jeans. He was headed to the bus station.
Inside a Scooby-Doo backpack and two disposable bags, he carried groceries, a blanket, hat and gloves. Temperatures hovered in the midteens, and for the first time in two days, Lambert was starting to feel the warmth.
“I stayed in an empty apartment (last night),” Lambert said. “That's where I've been staying for the last two days.”
Lambert has been living on the streets for about a year. At 5 a.m. Monday, he said below-freezing temperatures forced him out of the vacant building where he slept. It was colder inside than out.
“I move from one place to another, constantly just trying to stay warm,” Lambert said. “I try to survive the best way I can. That's all you can do.”
Despite not knowing his next move, Lambert was thankful for the supplies he received from the Guild of St. George outreach ministry in downtown.
It's one of a handful of options homeless people have for assistance during winter weather.
Rick Denny is the president and CEO of Jesus House, a shelter at 1335 W Sheridan that provides hot meals and warm beds for the homeless.
“When it gets bitterly cold like this, people can and do die,” Denny said.
“It's very important that we open up as many spaces as possible, distribute as many of the resources that we have as possible to people who may not be able to stay here overnight.”
Jesus House provided hot dinner meals to about 400 people Monday night, and in accordance with fire code, provided beds for 14 to 16 people in its chapel overnight.
Jon Peterson, 45, said he's what they call an “overnighter” at the shelter, where he slept Monday night.
He said he's been homeless off and on for the past few years and understands how important it is to find warm shelter when a deep freeze hits.
“You can lose your life, it's not no joke to play with,” Peterson said. “I lost my best friend in Tulsa in the cold ... If you're homeless, get in the shelter; it's the best place to go. Don't be strong, don't be a man, don't be a hero, it's not worth it out there for any of us.”