Thousands of Oklahomans awoke early Thursday to a rare winter thunderstorm that dropped heavy sleet and forced the closure of most schools in the Oklahoma City metro area.
The same storm system dropped a foot of snow in parts of northwest Oklahoma.
Officials in Oklahoma City said the storm wasn't as bad as they feared, but black ice remained a concern for Friday morning.
The highest snow total in the state reported by the National Weather Service was 13.5 inches in Alva.
Alva firefighter Chris Morris said the snow essentially shut down the town.
“We've got around a foot in most places,” Morris said. “Most people who tried got stuck out on the streets, and there are cars just piled everywhere.”
City crews used front end loaders to clear snow from Alva's main streets but didn't have the time to get to neighborhood streets Thursday.
“Cars are just buried,” Morris said. “They can't get them out. Most places are shut down.”
Snow totals of 12 inches or more also were reported in Texhoma and Waynoka.
Oklahoma City crews worked through the night as sleet fell, but temperatures rose and precipitation turned to rain by the time most people got on the roads, city spokeswoman Kristy Yager said.
“The rain had a huge effect on melting that snow and ice,” Yager said.
Lara O'Leary, spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority, credited employers for allowing workers to come in late and administrators who closed most metro schools Thursday.
“Considering the volume of sleet and the pace of the storm, there was potential for a lot of calamity,” she said. “Medics were busy responding to more car crashes than normal, but nothing like we were anticipating when we were watching the sleet come down.”
EMSA responded to 15 wrecks and took four people to hospitals. Eight more people were treated by paramedics for slips and falls.
Schools will decide
Transportation officials with Oklahoma City Public Schools will drive bus routes early Friday morning to determine if roads are too slick for school to reopen, district spokeswoman Tierney Tinnin said Thursday afternoon.
Officials with other metro school districts also planned to drive the roads Friday morning before making a decision on whether to cancel classes.
Yager said city crews worked through Thursday to clear roads of any remaining snow or slush that might melt and then refreeze Thursday night and Friday morning.
“Overnight temperatures are expected to be in the mid to low 20s, which will cause the pavement to refreeze,” Yager said. “We are expecting some black ice in the morning.”
Yager said crews have dropped about 150 tons of salt so far, which “really isn't much” for a winter storm.
“Most of the day today we spent plowing,” Yager said. “We will have about 25 trucks on the streets tonight looking for slick spots or places where the pavement is still wet.”
Contributing: Staff Writers Bryan Painter and Carrie Coppernoll