A winter storm hammered Oklahoma on Thursday, leaving at least four people dead, stranding holiday travelers and commuters, paralyzing traffic throughout the state and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Three people died in a weather-related crash on State Highway 51 in Sand Springs, and another person died in a crash on Interstate 44 near Geronimo, authorities said. The identities of the victims were not released. Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency for the state’s 77 counties in the midst of the storm, which moved into the state in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve. Local authorities will be able to seek reimbursement from the state for storm-related costs. The declaration is a precursor to federal aid. Oklahoma’s price gouging law also went into effect when Henry declared the state of emergency. The law prohibits a rise of more than 10 percent for most goods and services during the emergency. The storm was expected to move out of the state by this morning, according to the National Weather Service. Daytime highs statewide today should be near or below freezing thanks to the snow and an arctic air mass that followed the storm, but no more precipitation is expected over the weekend.
Roadways a mess statewideOklahoma Highway Patrol troopers reported numerous crashes and road closures throughout the state on Thursday. Dozens of motorists called The Oklahoman’s newsroom saying they were stuck on freeways and streets in the Oklahoma City area. Some callers said they had not moved in hours. Police said 911 lines were flooded with calls. The blizzard hit quickly, stranding cars in snow drifts across the metro area. Many travelers abandoned their cars, making it nearly impossible for city snow plows to clear the city’s snow routes, said Oklahoma City spokesman Kristy Yager. "There are just too many cars in the way. We can’t plow the routes,” Yager said. She said crews worked throughout the night and anticipated roads would be better by morning. People in four-wheel drive pickups and sport utility vehicles patrolled streets offering to help people get unstuck, although some were charging a fee, employees of The Oklahoman reported. The H.E. Bailey Turnpike from Newcastle to Texas was the first major road to close when troopers shut it down in the early afternoon. Authorities later shut down all interstates in the Oklahoma City area and the Oklahoma City-to-Tulsa Turner Turnpike. The Creek Turnpike in the Tulsa area was closed about 6 p.m. Oklahoma National Guard vehicles were deployed to help rescue stranded motorists on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike. Comanche County authorities said 21 motorists were rescued in and near the Lawton area. Troopers stopped responding to non-injury accidents in the Oklahoma City area in the early afternoon to focus on injury crashes and road closures, a spokesman said. About 50 cars were involved in a pile-up in the east metro on Interstate 40 near Hudiburg Drive in the afternoon, Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said. Two police cars and an ambulance were involved. Paramedics responded to 25 injury crashes in Oklahoma City and 10 falls by mid-afternoon, said Lara O’Leary, Emergency Medical Services Authority spokeswoman. She said the figures could have been worse had it been a normal work day. State Transportation Department salt truck crews were struggling to keep up with the storm Thursday afternoon, department spokesman David Meuser said. Crews reported slick and hazardous roadways statewide.
Power outages strike southwest OklahomaOfficials reported more than 16,000 electric customers were without power in Oklahoma late afternoon, state Emergency Management Department spokeswoman Michelann Ooten said. The hardest-hit area was in the southwest, where the majority of the power outages were clustered. The American Red Cross opened a shelter at Lawton High School, 601 NW Fort Sill Blvd., for residents without power, Ooten said. Officials in Cache opened a shelter at the fire department. More than 4,300 Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers were without power early Thursday evening in the Oklahoma City area, according to the OG&E Web site.
Snowfall totals vary across stateA record snowfall of 14 inches was reported at Will Rogers World Airport by the National Weather Service of Norman, but the recording could have been a result of snow blowing into drifts. Other totals recorded statewide were about 6 inches or less. The previous record for Christmas Eve was 2.5 inches in 1914. Snow accumulations were hard to estimate because of the strong winds and gusts, according to the weather service. Wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph were recorded at nearly every Oklahoma Mesonet station alongside and west of I-44. Central Oklahoma was expected to receive up to 6 inches of snow before the storm moved out of the state. Southern Oklahoma was expected to receive up to 9 inches. Snow drifts in some areas of Oklahoma City were several feet deep. CONTRIBUTING: STAFF WRITERS ROBERT MEDLEY, BRIAN SARGENT, DARLA SLIPKE, JOHN ESTUS AND VALLERY BROWN, THE TULSA WORLD, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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