Second blizzard howls through weary Plains
Thursday, February 10, 2011
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Another powerful blizzard howled through the nation’s midsection Wednesday, piling up to 2 feet of new snow on parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas still struggling to clean up from last week’s epic storm.
The blowing snow brought traffic to a halt, and the National Guard was summoned to rescue stranded motorists. Subzero wind chills forced ranchers to work desperately to protect their herds.
As the storm barreled out of the Plains, it took aim at the Deep South, which was expected to get up to five inches of snow. At least two traffic deaths were blamed on the system.
About 200 truck drivers sought shelter at a truck stop at the intersection of Interstate 44 and U.S. Highway 69, about 60 miles northeast of Tulsa.
“We have a 20-acre parking lot,” said owner Katrina Franks. “But it’s just utter chaos trying to get them started and keep them moving.”
Truck driver Mike Mallory was hauling chemicals from Houston to Iowa when he pulled into the Big Cabin Travel Plaza as the weather worsened.
“It was a rude awakening when I got up this morning,” Mallory said. “I can’t even see the tollway from the parking lot.”
The heaviest snow was concentrated in the northeast corner of the state, where the towns of Colcord and Spavinaw got 22 and 23 inches, respectively. The deepest snow was reported near the village of Jay, with 25 inches.
The fresh snow was especially troublesome in Tulsa, where many roads were still impassable from last week’s record 14-inch snowfall. The previous storm kept students out of school for at least six days. Mail, bus and trash service were only recently restored.
Five more inches of snow fell Wednesday in Tulsa, according to the National Weather Service. That raised the city’s total for the winter to 25.9 inches, breaking the previous seasonal record of 25.6 inches, set during the winter of 1923-24.
More than 275 National Guard soldiers were deployed in Humvees from armories across the state to search for stranded motorists.
“A Humvee can get through a lot, but we have some snow drifts that are 5 to 6 feet high,” said state Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten.
In Springfield, Mo., a 31-year-old woman was killed when she lost control of her vehicle after passing a car and veered off a snow-covered road into a ditch. Two young children survived the crash with minor injuries. An Arkansas motorist was reported dead in a tractor-trailer crash just east of Little Rock, police said.
Oklahoma ranchers struggled to keep their herds well fed and hydrated as wind chills fell well below zero.
In Beaver County, where overnight wind chills dropped to minus 19, Danny Engelman spent Wednesday tending to more than 300 head of cattle.
“If the temperatures get down to zero, with wind chills of 20 below zero, you’ve got a good chance of losing a calf,” Engelman said. “Sometimes you’ve got to put them in the pickup and get some heat on them. But once that baby calf gets some milk in his stomach, he’s good to go.”
Most ranchers prepare for winter storms by supplying their cattle with high-protein feed like alfalfa to build up their energy reserves.
“If their belly is filled with high-protein feed, they can withstand incredible cold,” he said.
The hardest part can be getting to the cattle. “Some of these areas you aren’t going to get to without a four-wheel drive,” said Beaver County Emergency Management Director Keith Shadden.
The snow was worse across the state border in hilly northwestern Arkansas, where nearly every community reported a foot or more of snow — blowing away forecasts that had called for only six inches.
“It kills business, but looks fantastic,” said Rob Cork, who runs a tea room with his wife in Siloam Springs. Cork’s area got 18 inches. Twenty inches fell in nearby Gentry.
Cork said he hadn’t seen a soul trudging through the knee-high snow. He kept his business closed, expecting most people to stay home.
A quaint diner a few blocks away was also closed. “We can’t make it in today since the snow is so deep!” the Cafi on Broadway posted on its website. “If roads get cleared, we might come in this afternoon. Be safe! No cars should be driving in this. You WILL get stuck!”
Heavy snow caused a roof to collapse at a manufacturing plant in Pryor, but there were no reports of injuries. The facility was not operating at the time of the collapse.
Arkansas highway authorities said the storm left every major highway in the state either packed with snow or covered with slush.
In Kansas, where some places got up to 17 inches, schoolchildren spent the day snow forts and shoveling driveways. Several universities cancelled classes, too.
Students in the Dallas, Fort Worth and Amarillo school districts in Texas also got the day off. Dallas-Fort Worth Airport canceled about 120 departures.