A strong winter storm buried southern and western Oklahoma beneath ice and snow before creeping into the Oklahoma City area about midafternoon Thursday. The icy conditions coated roads in a slick glaze and knocked down trees and power lines, forcing highway shutdowns and prompting school cancellations and business closures. Airlines canceled most flights into and out of Oklahoma on Thursday, and additional delays and cancellations are expected today. Tens of thousands were without power. More than a foot of snow is expected to fall in the Panhandle and northwest Oklahoma today, and a couple of inches of snow are possible in central Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City area. EMSA paramedics in the Oklahoma City area responded to 140 emergency calls and took 108 patients to local hospitals, spokeswoman Lara O’Leary said. Slips and falls caused 24 calls, and 20 were because of vehicle crashes. The state Health Department reported 137 injuries because of slips and falls statewide and 25 injuries from vehicle accidents. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported working 86 storm-related crashes, including 27 causing injuries. More than 132,000 utility customers were without power in Oklahoma on Thursday night, nearly doubling the number of affected customers since the sun went down. More than 67,000 customers were without power at 5:30 p.m., according to state emergency management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten. That number jumped to more than 132,000 by 9:30 p.m., she said. More than 55,000 Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives customers in southwestern, south central and central Oklahoma were without power as of 9:30 p.m., Ooten said. Nearly 44,000 customers on the Public Service Co. of Oklahoma network in western Oklahoma also were without power about 9:30 p.m., spokesman Stan Whiteford said. Outages in Chickasha, Hobart and Lawton were affecting more than 37,000 customers, he said. Power is not expected to be returned to PSO customers in these areas until Monday night, according to the PSO Web site. "I do know that the situation is particularly bleak in some areas. I know we are particularly hard-hit in Hobart and Lawton and Chickasha and in some places out in the west ... for as far as you can see, there are downed power poles,” spokeswoman Andrea Chancellor said. Whiteford said crews from less affected areas such as Tulsa will be sent to assist in western Oklahoma today, and about 1,000 additional workers were brought into the state Thursday to assist with restoration efforts. More than 18,000 Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers were without power at 9:45 p.m., including about 2,000 without power in the cities of Colbert, Holdenville and Stratford. More than 26,000 customers were without power for parts of Thursday night, including more than 9,000 in Yukon and 3,800 in Pauls Valley, according to the OG&E System Watch. Yukon later showed no outages, and Pauls Valley had less than a thousand. The Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority reported almost 12,000 outages, including about 8,900 customers in Duncan and another 2,300 in Marlow, Ooten said. The NOAA all-hazards radio broadcast in Lawton will be off the air for an undetermined amount of time because of equipment damaged in the storm, according to a report to the National Weather Service.
RoadsState Transportation Department crews reported numerous highway closings because of downed trees and power lines. Affected areas were in a band from Harmon County in the far southwest part of the state up through the central part of the state to Lincoln County, a department news release said. Areas near Altus, Lawton, Duncan, Chickasha, Pauls Valley, Purcell and Stroud were most affected. Also, Texas officials reported poor conditions near Stratford, Texas, and requested highways leading from Guymon and Boise City in the Oklahoma Panhandle be closed. Interstate 35 southbound near Billings was closed for a couple of hours because of a seven-car accident. And the H.E. Bailey Turnpike from Elgin to Chickasha was shut down all afternoon because of downed power lines. Custer County officials reported several accidents involving tractor-trailers, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was investigating whether slick roads contributed to an afternoon accident and traffic problems on the John Kilpatrick Turnpike at MacArthur Boulevard. Oklahoma City crews were salting roads with 24 trucks all day, city officials said. The biggest fear was trucks breaking down, which hampered cleanup efforts in last month’s blizzard. "As long as nobody breaks down we’ll have 24 trucks out 24 hours,” city spokeswoman Kristy Yager said. Although the roads started to worsen in the afternoon, the city seemed to dodge the worst of the weather, Yager said. Ground temperatures helped melt freezing rain as it hit the streets.
ForecastThe first round of the winter storm passed central Oklahoma by sunset, but snow was expected to start falling about dawn, the National Weather Service reported. "We do have some sleet and snow still occurring in Ponca City, Enid and northeast Oklahoma,” forecaster Christine Riley said Thursday night. "We also have some flurries and sleet in the Hobart and Altus area, and it’s dry in between.” Starting about 6 a.m. and continuing into the afternoon, forecasters expect snow — with some sleet mixed in — to fall in central and southern Oklahoma. Some light precipitation is expected into this evening, but accumulation will cease during the day, she said.
AirportsNearly all flights in Oklahoma City were canceled Thursday, and further cancellations are expected today, airport spokeswoman Karen Carney said. "I’m anticipating that flights, weather permitting, will begin arriving at 8 a.m. and slowly start returning to service,” she said. Crews began deicing the runways Thursday afternoon. Flight status can be checked on the airport’s Web site, flyokc.com. However, many of Southwest Airlines’ arrivals were showing an on-time status, which wasn’t accurate, Carney said. Travelers should contact the airline before driving to the airport. Morning departures from Tulsa International Airport will depend on whether the airlines have an aircraft in place, airport spokeswoman Alexis Higgins said. For more flight information, check the airport Web site at tulsaairports.com.
Contributing writersStaff Writers Darla Slipke, Michael Kimball, Johnny Johnson, Brian Sargent, Bryan Painter, Bryan Dean, Matt Dinger, Aaron Crespo, James S. Tyree, Michael McNutt and Ken Raymond