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Winter storm blasts through Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Nature will provide little help for road crews and residents in northern Oklahoma as they dig out of up to 20 inches of snow.

After temperatures in the 60s last week, winter returned on Sunday, packing heavy snow, strong winds and below-freezing temperatures. Highs will struggle to get out of the teens in snowpacked areas of northern Oklahoma and below-normal readings are possible through at least Wednesday.

Another storm system was expected to move into Oklahoma Monday, but with less than one inch additional snow, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Kenneth James.

``We are looking at pretty much any day this week there could be some type of wintry precipitation,'' James said. ``We are playing around with the freezing line, some areas could get snow, some could get freezing rain or sleet.''

The snowstorm was blamed for a multiple-car pileup near Miami in far northeastern Oklahoma on Sunday.

Five people were injured when several cars traveling in blizzard-like conditions collided and dozens of other vehicles trailing behind smashed into them on the Will Rogers Turnpike section of Interstate 44.

The five were listed in stable condition late Sunday, said a nursing supervisor at Integris Baptist Regional Hospital. There were no reports of fatalities.

``A semi was trying to stop to avoid the pileup and couldn't and ended up jackknifing and going over the concrete barrier wall, westbound to eastbound, where he landed on a passenger car, pinning two people inside,'' said Michelle Paul, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Transportation Authority.

Emergency crews were able to free the pair, but the truck took out more than 80 feet of the barrier, pushing it into the eastbound lanes, said Miami Fire Capt. Mike Glasman.

Two more semis smashed into the other wrecked cars, Paul said.

A number of vehicles were stranded behind the wreck for hours. Road crews and state troopers were unable to divert other motorists off the interstate because that stretch of the highway contained no exits, Paul said.

OTA personnel made sure people didn't run out of gas, she said.

Jeff York, 33, of Joplin, told the Joplin Globe he was headed for San Antonio to visit family when he encountered blowing snow that limited visibility.

``Suddenly everyone was moving real slowly, and then it stopped and that's where we've been,'' said York, who estimated he had been stranded for five hours. ``I didn't even realize I had passed the Miami exit until a woman next to me told me.''

One westbound lane was reopened late Sunday evening. The barrier was put back in place and all but one westbound lane was reopened about 12:30 a.m. Monday.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory for the Oklahoma Panhandle, where frigid temperatures and high winds combined to drive wind-chill factors to nearly 15 degrees below freezing.

The storm began leaving Oklahoma Sunday evening, but not before dumping between a half-foot and 1 1/2 feet of snow on northern Oklahoma, the weather service reported.

Eighteen inches of snow was reported in Kildare in the north-central part of the state.

Other snowfall totals included 16 inches in Pawhuska; 15 inches in Blackwell, Braman, Foraker, Hominy, Ponca City, South Coffeyville and Tonkawa, and 14 inches in Newkirk and Woolaroc.

As little as a trace fell in Norman, while Tulsa receive 8 inches of snow.

Freezing rain caused more than 2,000 people to lose power in western Oklahoma City and El Reno, but power was restored by 11 p.m., utility officials said.

Oklahoma City escaped with .2 inches of snow, according to the official measurement at Will Rogers World Airport, but up to 2 inches were reported in other parts of the city.

Kay County may have been the county hardest hit. In addition to Kildare, Ponca City got between 12 and 15 inches of snow.

``I haven't seen it this bad before,'' Larry Kitchens, a dispatcher for Ponca City fire and police, said Sunday.

``I've been here since 1977, and this is pretty bad.''

Kitchen said an ambulance, a fire truck and a police car got stuck.

``We're just having trouble getting to the calls,'' he said.

Officials closed Oklahoma 23 in northern Beaver County because of drifting snow and road closings in Kansas. U.S. 283 and U.S. 183 in northern Oklahoma also were closed to northbound traffic because of road closures in Kansas.

Road crews suspended road clearing efforts for a time because the blowing snow reduced visibility. They resumed work about 4 p.m. and continued into the night, officials said.
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