Blizzard Kills Oklahoma Man; Strands Responders

Blizzard Kills Oklahoma Man; Strands Responders

News Feb 26, 2013

Feb. 26--A state of emergency was declared Monday for 56 Oklahoma counties because of a winter storm that produced a deadly blizzard in the northwestern part of the state but left Oklahoma City relatively unscathed.

More than an inch of rain fell across Oklahoma City, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet, but the anticipated snow totals fell far short.

The National Weather Service in Norman downgraded its predictions for snowfall across Oklahoma City to fall within the 1- to 3-inch range across the metro area overnight. Most areas are expected to see less than an inch, but some locations may accumulate 2 or 3 inches, the weather service said.

There is a 50 percent chance of snow before 7 a.m. in Oklahoma City, then gradually becoming sunny with a high of 37 degrees. Winds are expected to decrease as the day goes on, but gusts up to 36 mph are possible, according to the weather service.

But Woodward County was pummeled from midnight to midnight by rain and then snow, with 13.2 inches reported by emergency management to the weather service.

A 71-year-old man died Monday afternoon when a house partially collapsed on the south side of Woodward, said Matt Lehenbauer, emergency management director in Woodward County. The collapse was reported in the 3600 block of 22nd Street, he said. The man's name was not immediately released.

Seven snowplows were stuck across the county, and 12 emergency responders stranded in the blizzard at sundown were rescued by 10 p.m., Lehenbauer said, including five firefighters, two emergency medical technicians, one sheriff's deputy and four county commission employees who were driving plows.

"That's a lot of our snow-clearing equipment that's stuck out there. We're getting drift reports between 4 and 9 feet," Lehenbauer said.

The blizzard was beginning to wind its way down in the county by 10 p.m., and efforts to rescue stranded motorists will continue through the night.

By 7:30 a.m., all highways in the Oklahoma Panhandle had been shut down because of the blizzard, Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokeswoman Betsy Randolph said. Many other roads and highways in northwest Oklahoma were closed by early afternoon.

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For current information about Oklahoma road conditions, call 425-2385 or go online to www.dps.state.ok.us.

Emergency declaration

"The winter storm has already caused dangerous travel conditions in northwest Oklahoma, as well as subfreezing temperatures," said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who issued the emergency declaration at the request of Gov. Mary Fallin, who was in Washington, D.C., attending a National Governors Association meeting.

Fallin, who is vice chairman of the nonpartisan governors' group, was to return to Oklahoma on Monday night, but her arrival has been delayed until at least Tuesday because of the storm, Lamb said.

"This is a very serious winter storm, and we want Oklahomans to stay safe," Lamb said.

The executive order Lamb issued allows state agencies to make emergency purchases related to disaster relief and preparedness. It also is a first step toward seeking federal assistance, should it be necessary.

Oklahoma County is among the counties covered in the declaration. Other counties are Adair, Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Cherokee, Cimarron, Cleveland, Comanche, Cotton, Craig, Creek, Custer, Delaware, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grady, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Harper, Jackson, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, Major, Mayes, McClain, McIntosh, Muskogee, Noble, Nowata, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Payne, Pottawatomie, Roger Mills, Rogers, Seminole, Texas, Tillman, Tulsa, Wagoner, Washington, Washita, Woods and Woodward.

Power outages

Thousands of customers were left without power as the blizzard pounded the western half of the state.

"I have a gas cooking stove and got the oven going," Ann Smith, owner of the Standifer House Bed and Breakfast in Elk City, said late Monday afternoon. Her daughter and grandchildren had come over because they lost power.

"If it gets cold tonight, I guess we'll have to put pallets in the kitchen," Smith said with a laugh.

As of 9 p.m., there were about 36,000 statewide power outages related to the storm, according to Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain.

Of those outages, more than 19,200 were reported by the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, she said, including over 5,200 Cimmaron Electric and 4,600 Kiwash Electric customers.

More than 12,200 Public Service Co. of Oklahoma customers were in the dark across seven southwestern counties. More than 5,500 customers were without power in Elk City and Weatherford had just over 4,000 outages, Cain said.

As of 10 p.m., more than 14,100 Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers were also without power, including just over 5,000 in Enid, according to the SystemWatch website.

The city of Watonga was completely without power Monday night, including Watonga Municipal Hospital, which was running on generators.

"As far as the hospital goes, our emergency department is open so we can function fully. We're not too concerned. I'm better off at the hospital than at home," said April Neill, charge nurse for the hospital.

Watonga City Hall was opened and powered by generators for people who need power for nonemergency purposes, she said.

"We have a lot of people calling to ask if they can come hang out here. They can hang out at city hall until the power is back on," Neill said.

Stranded motorists

More than a foot of snow fell in Woodward County before noon, with more snow expected. Wind gusts of 30 to 35 mph caused whiteout conditions.

Lehenbauer said firefighters are having trouble reaching stranded motorists. They also had trouble responding to two house fire calls as more than a foot of snow made roads impassable even for fire trucks.

"Even though the highways have shut down, there have been a few people who have been venturing out," Lehenbauer said. "We've got our hands full."

Law enforcement and emergency medical personnel responded to calls in military cargo trucks and Humvees, Lehenbauer said. About 200 people in Woodward were without power Monday, and Lehenbauer said power likely won't be restored until Tuesday at the earliest.

"The problem is trucks are not able to reach those areas to do the repairs just because of the road conditions," Lehenbauer said. "Most of those power outages are going to probably extend through the night because we aren't going to be able to get a handle on the roads until the snow stops."

Lehenbauer said an awning fell at a Mooreland convenience store, and the outdoor garden center at the Woodward Walmart collapsed, but no major damage was reported.

Chris McBee, a storm chaser, got stuck outside Woodward.

"We were planning to go back to Oklahoma City tonight, but the road was just impassable," McBee told The Associated Press. "You couldn't see 50 feet in front of you." A man with a bulldozer dug out McBee's vehicle.

Clearing snow also was the biggest challenge in Alva, where 15 city workers were sanding and salting city streets Monday morning, City Manager Joe Don Dunham said.

The University of Oklahoma in Norman and Oklahoma State University in Stillwater closed Monday afternoon because of weather predictions.

All Northern Oklahoma College campuses, Tonkawa, Enid and Stillwater, are closed Tuesday, said Bill Johnson, the college's director of public information.

Flights canceled

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines canceled a total of 23 flights from 1 p.m. Monday through 10:40 a.m. Tuesday, said Karen Carney, Will Rogers World Airport spokeswoman.

As the weather system moves through the metro area, there may be additional cancellations. Travelers can check flight information at flyokc.com.

"We don't want to get people stranded at the airport," Carney said.

Airport maintenance crews are ready to clear runways and taxiways and make every effort to keep the airport operational, Carney said.

The winter weather was good for busy Monday at Ace Hardware, 1509 W Britton Road. Floor manager Michael Vredenburg said there was a high demand for snow-related merchandise including ice melt, shovels and sleds.

Contributing: Staff Writers Robert Medley, Carrie Coppernoll and Joey Stipek and The Associated Press

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Copyright 2013 - The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

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