Vicki Roberts skipped her mail route Monday and prepared to settle in front of the fireplace with a good book as a blizzard moved into the Oklahoma Panhandle.
The snow started falling about 8 a.m. and about an inch and a half had accumulated in an hour, said Roberts, the owner of the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast in Kenton. When she peered outside, she couldn't even see the nearby mesa, which at 4,973 feet is the highest point in Oklahoma.
The state was expected to get a big wallop of a storm just days before winter starts and the Christmas travel rush begins. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the Panhandle and forecasters said up to 16 inches of precipitation could fall before the storm departs Tuesday. In the Oklahoma City area, forecasters predict only chances of snow Tuesday and again on Thursday night.
At 5:45 p.m., 8 to 12 inches of snowfall with drifts up to three feet were reported to the weather service in Amarillo, Texas. In Boise City, 6 to 8 inches had fallen and an inch was reported in Guymon.
The snow prevented some people from leaving the area. "We have several churches all full of stragglers, and even a couple in the basement of the courthouse," Cimarron County sheriff's dispatcher Sharon Bade said late Monday. "We closed down the roads really early today, so most of them were trapped in town," she said.
One vehicle was reported stuck on a road near Felt about 10:30 p.m. and an attempt to rescue those inside was underway just before midnight.
Bade said there is no traffic on the roads in Boise City. Sheriff's deputies and Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers are also staying off the roads, she said.
"Even the wreckers can't go out," Bade said.
Martha Keepers, of Boise City, said they were without electricity for about 15 minutes, but by a little after 6 p.m. it was back on. She said it started snowing about 11 a.m. Monday.
“We've got about seven inches of snow, but it's blowing so hard, it's hard to tell,” she said. “It's a whiteout, it's a total whiteout. We didn't start our fireplace, but we do have the wood and we can do it.
“When the electricity went off, we were afraid it would be off until tomorrow,” Keepers said.
Jane Apple, of Kenton, said, “We are in a really pretty bad storm out here. The electricity went out, but came back on. We've had 10 to 12 inches of snow. The wind is 25 to 30 mph. We have a whiteout.”
Roberts said there were no guests at her five-room inn at the foot of the mesa and a short distance from the Colorado and New Mexico borders and no one was stranded. She didn't plan on getting stuck on the road either.
“I have a mail route and I'm not going. You just don't get out in this,” Roberts said. “We'll be socked in here. If we lose power, we'll just read a book in front of the fireplace.”
While snow has fallen over the region as early as Oct. 30, most of Oklahoma has been enjoying a relatively mild fall and winter.
Panhandle residents have been preparing for the storm. On Sunday, they snatched up snow shovels, milk, bread and other necessities along with Christmas gifts at the Walmart Supercenter in Guymon.
“It's so busy right now, we can hardly keep up,” store manager Amy Green said.
The precipitation also could help ease a drought that has plagued Oklahoma and Texas for more than year.
“You're not going to find too many people who have to put in winter wheat in this area complaining,” said Tabatha Seymore, observing program leader for the National Weather Service in Amarillo, Texas. “It's just wonderful to have this moisture to sit on top of the crop and melt. It's fantastic for them.”
The blizzard warning is in effect through Tuesday for the Oklahoma Panhandle. Along with heavy snow, winds of 25 to 35 mph with higher gusts are expected to produce snowdrifts on roads and reduce visibility for motorists.
Snow began falling across the rest of Cimarron County on Monday afternoon as the blizzard moved east, county Emergency Management Director Cliff White said. It hit Boise City, the county seat about 20 miles southeast of Kenton, just before noon.
“It's not heavy, it's just steady,” White said.
Little accumulation was expected initially, although 2 to 3 inches was predicted to fall through Monday night, he said. But another 6 to 10 inches was expected overnight as the storm intensified, he added. Light flurries are expected Tuesday as the storm dissipates.
Ice had developed on some power lines and tree limbs before rain turned to snow early Monday, but no outages were reported, White said.
“We dodged a bullet there,” he said.
Five counties neighboring the Panhandle were under a winter storm watch with 3 to 6 inches of precipitation forecast.
About 500 trucks statewide are available to remove snow and ice off roads, Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokeswoman Brenda Perry said. Crews also have about 130,000 tons of a salt and sand mixture at their disposal and will work continuous shifts to clear the roads, she said.
“This time of year, we're standing by pretty much all the time,” Perry said. “We have to wait until the precipitation starts falling before we can do much.”
Road and school closings
Snow and sleet falling in the Oklahoma Panhandle is causing roads to become slick, forcing officials to close some highways.
• U.S. 64 westbound out of Guymon is closed due to whiteout conditions.
• U.S. 412 westbound has been closed at the U.S. 83 junction in Bryan's Corner due to road closures out of Texas County.
• U.S. 287 north to Colorado at the request of Baca County, Colo., due to multiple accidents and pileups.
• U.S. 56 westbound out of Boise City, Oklahoma in Cimarron County has been closed at the urgent request of the Clayton Police Department due to blizzard conditions and a humanitarian crisis. Officials said there aren't any motel or hotel rooms available in Clayton and shelters are full.
• U.S. 54 is closed from Guymon in Texas County, west to the Texas state line, at the request of Texas officials, according to the state transportation department.
Sleet and snow falling in Boise City caused officials to dismiss school at noon.
Toni Thornton, administrative assistant at the school, said the area received about one inch of rain Monday morning and it quickly turned to snow.
She said the roads were becoming icy, so they decided to let students out for Christmas break a little early.
In Goodwell, Oklahoma Panhandle State University closed at 1 p.m. Monday and expects to reopen Wednesday.
The American Red Cross has opened a shelter in Guymon for anyone needing a place to stay overnight.
The shelter is at Victory Memorial Methodist Church at 523 N Roosevelt in Guymon.
A blizzard warning remains in effect until noon Tuesday in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Heavy snow and strong north winds will impact the Oklahoma Panhandle and northern and western Texas Panhandle with snowfall accumulations of 4 to 18 inches of snow, according to the weather service.
A winter weather advisory is in effect for Alfalfa, Dewey, Ellis, Harper, Major, Roger Mills, Woods and Woodward counties in northern and west central Oklahoma until noon Tuesday due to snow accumulations.