Winter Storm Coats State With Ice

Tuesday, January 27th 2009, 9:52 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- After surviving Hurricane Katrina and an Iowa blizzard, Shana Miller is prepared to deal with what this latest winter storm might bring.

She had working flashlights, a battery operated radio, food and other supplies just in case conditions get as bad as they did when the December 2007 ice storm left her family and thousands of Oklahomans without power for days.

This storm has been blamed for at least two traffic deaths, dozens of motor vehicle accidents and falls and the cancellation of dozens of flights to and from both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but it didn't appear early Tuesday to be as strong as the 2007 storm that killed nearly 30 people and left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

Governor Brad Henry on Monday declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties and authorities urged residents to avoid getting out.

Among those killed was a 21-year-old Tulsa man, whose sport utility vehicle slid out of control on Interstate 44 in far northeastern Oklahoma and into the path of a semi. Renard J. Johnson Jr., died at the scene, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Near Chandler, a truck driver was killed when his semi skidded off the interstate, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority reported. The victim's name wasn't immediately released.

The National Weather Service has issued an ice storm warning for nine counties in eastern Oklahoma until Wednesday morning. Much of central, southern and northeastern Oklahoma was under a winter storm warning through Tuesday evening.

Both Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City and Tulsa International Airport remained open Tuesday, but reported on their Web sites that airlines were canceling dozens of flights both into and out of the airports.

The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University both were closed Tuesday, along with the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma City University, Southern Nazarene University, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, East Central University, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Cameron University and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, among others.

The storm was expected to continue dropping frozen precipitation in various forms -- freezing drizzle, freezing rain, sleet and snow -- for much of the day, said Bruce Thoren, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman.

"It's probably actually going to get progressively worse through the early morning hours and then end from northwest to southeast," Thoren said. "It will probably be dry for most of our area by Wednesday morning."

Power outages peaked at about 5,200 customers, most in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, Monday evening. Electricity was restored in Oklahoma by Tuesday morning, according to Oklahoma Gas & Electric's Web site, but the utility reported nearly 6,000 outages in the Fort Smith, Ark., area, just across the Oklahoma state line.

OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said the utility had activated its incident command operation would remain in an around-the clock mode for the next several days.

"We're keeping a watchful eye on Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, but the focus is really going to be in the eastern part of the state and western Arkansas," Alford said late Monday.

"That's where we expect the brunt of the ice storm to be concentrated."

Support crews were dispatched to eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas in case any damage occurs, Alford said.

Not the kind of news Miller, a sociology professor, wanted to hear. A large tree limb fell onto powerlines stretching from her mother's house to a power pole, knocking out the electricity.

"It was four to five days," she said. "We spent three to four days at my sister's apartment, but the power went out in that part of the city, too."

Utility crews cut back the biggest tree limbs so that branches no longer hang over the house, Miller said. OG&E, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which serves the Tulsa area, and other utilities have focused on trimming trees in the past year to lessen their impact in future storms.

Meanwhile, emergency crews were kept busy, with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol responding to at least 200 wrecks, 60 of them involving injury, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported.

In Tulsa, the Emergency Medical Services Authority responded to nearly 70 accidents on Monday, and two ambulances were involved in crashes on slick streets, but no serious injuries were reported.

In Oklahoma City, EMSA responded to 219 emergency calls by late Monday afternoon, including 75 slips or falls and more than 50 car accidents.

School districts, colleges and universities canceled classes for Tuesday.

For Miller, who is working as a substitute teacher in Tulsa, the storm probably won't be the worst that she's seen.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina drove her from her job at Xavier University in New Orleans back to her native Tulsa. A decade earlier, she experienced a different kind of storm while teaching at Drake University in Iowa.

"Even as bad as the ice storm was in 2007 -- which clearly that was a record ice storm -- I had already lived through the blizzard of the winter of 1993-94 and that ice and snow that winter was really pretty bad."