A storm dropped snow and ice on Oklahoma on Thursday, snarling traffic, closing schools and businesses, and likely contributing to at least two deaths — with even worse weather expected Friday.
Charles Spence, 5, of Fort Gibson, suffered fatal injuries in a rollover accident shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday in Muskogee, police said. His mother lost control of her van on an icy bridge. Others in the vehicle had minor injuries.
An unidentified homeless man was found dead under an Oklahoma City overpass at Interstate 235 and NE 23, and police think his death was related to the frigid weather.
State of emergency
“The weather is bad and getting worse,” Gov. Mary Fallin said. “Emergency personnel are coordinating with state and local officials to ensure we are prepared and ready for whatever comes our way.”
She declared a state of emergency in all 77 counties in Oklahoma. The declaration allows state agencies to make emergency purchases related to disaster relief and also represents a first step toward seeking federal disaster assistance, if necessary.
Some businesses closed early. Classes were canceled Thursday afternoon and Friday at many schools and universities.
Emergency Medical Services Authority personnel responded to 14 motor vehicle accidents by 3:40 p.m. in the Oklahoma City metro area alone, spokeswoman Lara O’Leary said.
Thirty-three City of Oklahoma City trucks dumped a salt mix on roads ahead of the snow, but some roadways remained icy and traffic slowed to a crawl on the Broadway Extension and other major roads.
Behind the wheel of one of those trucks Thursday was Larry Fleming, 52.
“It’s kind of dangerous,” he said. “The public doesn’t yield to you when you’re trying to do your job. They’re trying to get around you and they don’t want to wait.”
Mix of precipitation
The metro area received a sleet and snow mix from Thursday afternoon into evening hours, said Jonathan Kurtz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office. Northern areas of the state received mainly light snow while much of southern and southeastern portions of the state had freezing rain for much of the day.
Kurtz said forecasters expected a band of snow overnight Thursday into early Friday from Altus northeast to the Oklahoma City metro and toward Tulsa, with accumulations of 2 to 6 inches.
Driving conditions were expected to worsen with additional snow overnight Friday and temperatures expected to dip into the teens.
Joe Sellers, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Tulsa Forecast Office, said the majority of northeast Oklahoma had received sleet and snow.
Freezing rain and sleet had fallen in areas closer to Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma and across the far southeast corner of the state.
Sellers was expecting a lull Thursday evening but thought the wintry precipitation would “pick back up late Thursday night and overnight.” That is when the weather service was anticipating the greatest accumulation of snowfall.
The highest accumulations of snowfall — between 3 and 6 inches with locally higher amounts possible — were expected along the Interstate 44 corridor down to near Interstate 40, Sellers said.
Ice accumulations in southeast Oklahoma could range from
inch south of the Interstate 40 corridor with up to 1 inch of ice possible in portions of far southeastern Oklahoma, he said.
As of midday Thursday, some eastern areas of the state were in a winter storm warning while others were in an ice storm warning, both until 6 p.m. Friday.
Friday’s high is expected to be in the low 20s before the overnight low plunges to single digits.
Southern Oklahoma bore the brunt of Thursday’s storm, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. The southern half of the state saw heavy precipitation, with a mix of ice and snow, Cain said.
Comanche County Emergency Management spokesman Jacob Russell said the county saw a mix of sleet and snow Thursday afternoon. Icy roads caused a few car accidents around the county, Russell said.
McCurtain County Emergency Manager Greg Campbell said the county had seen rain but no freezing rain or snow by 3:30 p.m. Thursday. McCurtain County and other counties around the state were prepared for the storm, he said.
The state Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had positioned generators and other resources around the state before the storm. Campbell said having those resources in place would be helpful if the county sees power outages lasting several days.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Corp. reported no areas of power outages in Oklahoma at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Oklahoma National Guard support teams were standing by Thursday afternoon in various locations throughout the state, including Ardmore, Sand Springs, Muskogee and Vinita, said Col. Max Moss, a spokesman for the guard. Those teams will assist the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in helping motorists who are stranded in the wintry storm, Moss said.
Contributing: Staff Writers Kyle Fredrickson and Graham Brewer