Snow Exits, But Frigid Temperatures And Road-Clearing Process Continues

Thursday, November 30th 2006, 7:39 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The aftermath of a winter storm that slammed Oklahoma left roadways in Oklahoma closed Friday morning, as well as hundreds of schools, colleges and universities and state offices across the state.

The last band of heavy snow exited Oklahoma early Friday but the work to clear ice-covered roadways and restore electrical service will continue for a few days.

The forecast for Friday offered some hope, although cold temperatures from the 20s in the north to the 40s in the south are expected, the day will be sunny, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Ty Judd.

"The sun's coming out and the wind's going to be pretty light and that will get rid some of that ice," Judd said.

"But tonight's going to get real cold again, I would say anywhere from the single digits to up around 13."

The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is similar, Judd said, and temperatures were expected to warm into the 40s early next week, although that would still be lower than the normal highs in the lower 50s for this time of year.

Authorities closed the Turner Turnpike, Interstate 44, from Oklahoma City to Tulsa and the Will Rogers Turnpike, also I-44, from Tulsa to the Missouri state line. Eastbound lanes of the Turner Turnpike were reopened about 8:20 a.m. Friday, and westbound lanes were opened about 50 minutes later.

The Will Rogers Turnpike reopened about 9:50 a.m.

The Cimarron Turnpike, or U.S. Highway 412, was closed from just after 9 p.m. after Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and wrecker trucks were unable to travel safely on the road, said Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

One lane in each direction of the turnpike reopened shortly before 5 a.m.

On Friday morning, jackknifed tractor trailers resulted in the closure of northbound Interstate 35 in Garvin County and eastbound Interstate 40 in McIntosh County. One lane of northbound I-35 was reopened about 50 minutes later.

Late Thursday, the Oklahoma National Guard was deployed to search for stranded motorists along the state's toll roads and the National Guard Armory in Chandler was opened to provide shelter to motorists, Ooten said.

National Guard Col. Pat Scully said guardsmen found two motorists stranded along the Cimarron Turnpike, and using Humvees, helped pull their vehicles from snowdrifts.

Along the Turner Turnpike, guardsmen found eight civilians, whom they took to the Chandler Armory before returning them to their vehicles Friday morning.

Ooten said two additional Turner Turnpike motorists found their own way to the armory.

An accident that killed a young Laverne man is the only fatality attributed to the powerful winter storm, which coated state roads with a sheet of ice before the snow fell and wreaked havoc for motorists statewide.

Hayden Witchey, 19, died of head injuries Thursday morning when his car struck a patch of ice on U.S 283 near Laverne, skidded out of control and slammed into a tractor-trailer, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Kera Philippi.

In central Oklahoma, 16 vehicles, including an ambulance and eight semis, were involved in a pileup on Interstate 40 that injured several people and forced the closure of the highway throughout Canadian County west of Oklahoma City for nearly 13 hours.

Medics inside the ambulance had bumps and bruises but weren't seriously injured, Philippi said.

"A trooper out here just slipped and broke his leg," Philippi said. "It's hard to walk out here, much less drive."

Earlier in the day, part of Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma City was shut down for more than six hours after a tractor-trailer carrying some radiological material overturned, Philippi said.

"We kept everything shut down because we didn't know if it was leaking," she said. "They came out and tested it and it came back clear, not had leaked. We just didn't want anyone going past, and if we had to do anything like evacuations we would that later.

"As it turns out, nothing actually happened."

State officials gave government employees a four-day weekend by closing state offices again for Friday. Public Safety Commissioner Kevin Ward said non-essential state employees won't have to report for work.

For law enforcement officers and road crews, there would be no such break. More than 350 troopers and dozens of maintenance employees were working around the clock, officials said.

The cold temperatures drove people inside, including the homeless.

Brad Henning, the night desk person at the Jesus House, said the usual 60 residents housed at the shelter were joined by about 25 others Thursday night.

"We've got the hallways lined with beds and mattresses," Henning said. "There's no room to spare."

The weather also forced the postponement of the state high school football playoffs. Championship games in six classes and semifinal games in two classes have been postponed until Monday or Tuesday, said Ed Robinson, the associate executive secretary of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.

It is the first weather-related postponement of the state football playoffs since 1992.

Preliminary snowfall amounts ranged from 2 to 3 inches in Kiowa County; 3 inches near Mooreland in Woodward County; 4 inches near Piedmont in Canadian County, near Medford in Grant County and near Altus; 5 inches in Garfield County and between 4.5 and 7 inches in Kay County; 7 inches southeast of Norman and 11 inches near Braman in northern Oklahoma.

There were intermittent delays and cancellations of flights but Will Rogers World Airport remained open, Mark Kranenburg, director of airports, said Friday.

"Many cancellations we've had this morning are the result of weather still going on around the country such as that in St. Louis, and Chicago and in Denver."

At Tulsa International Airport, some flights were canceled or rescheduled, and passengers were told to expect delays up to an hour for outbound flights, said airport spokeswoman Alexis Higgins.

By Friday morning, the airport's main runway and taxiways were clear for operation, although delays were expected for morning departures, Higgins said. That's because many inbound aircraft from Thursday night were diverted and there were no airplanes in place for morning flights, she said.

In the Bartlesville area, 35,000 to 40,000 residents were without electric power Thursday night because of downed power lines, emergency management officials said. Power was restored to most customers before 10 p.m.

In far western Oklahoma, about 500 Arnett residents were affected when a natural gas line was cut as workers repaired a water main on Thursday, emergency management officials reported.