A winter storm that brought heavy snow and rainfall to northern California was bearing down on the southern Plains on Thursday, and forecasters said crippling ice accumulations and heavy rain could cause widespread power outages and flooding this weekend.
The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning for northwestern Oklahoma beginning Friday morning as well as a winter storm watch for much of the rest of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri along with parts of Illinois and Texas. Forecasters said the potential for a significant ice storm is increasing and the region could see up to 1 inch of ice. Storms are also expected Saturday and Sunday.
“We could see some fairly significant ice accumulations,” said Kevin Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma. “Enough ice accumulations to cause a lot of problems with trees and power lines and power interruptions.”
Residents preparing for worst
In northwestern Oklahoma, where the forecast calls for up to an inch of accumulated ice, residents Thursday were snatching up flashlights, batteries and alternative energy sources in anticipation of power disruptions.
“They're grabbing generators, and I'm sold out,” said Raymond Bopp, assistant manager of the Woodward Ace Hardware store in Woodward, Oklahoma, about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
The last time the area experienced a significant ice storm was in 2001, when electrical power was interrupted for three or four days, Bopp said. Residents who recall the inconvenience were taking no chances.
“They've been buying a lot of flashlights,'' Bopp said. Propane containers, kerosene and lamp oil also were selling well as the storm neared.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management was assembling generators and supplies for temporary shelters across northwestern and northern Oklahoma, said spokeswoman Keli Cain.
“If there's a need for additional generators, we want them to be available,” Cain said.
Kansas expects freezing rain
In Kansas, up to 1 inch of ice was expected to fall in “multiple rounds” of freezing rain between Friday and early Monday in parts of the state, including Wichita, Kansas' largest city. The weather service said the potential impact will be power outages, slick roads and accidents.
In Missouri, forecasters were calling for up to three-quarters of an inch of freezing rain over the weekend, potentially more in the southwestern part of the state.
Concern about the storm prompted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to activate the state Emergency Operations Center in Jefferson City. Greitens told reporters at the center Thursday that he called a state of emergency and said the Missouri Transportation Department had started pretreating roads and would continue to do so throughout the storm.
“We're going to be prepared for whatever the storm brings,” Greitens said.
The new governor asked people in the storm's path to stay off roads late Thursday and Friday, both for safety and to allow emergency responders to work. He said he might ask businesses to shorten hours Friday. More than 3,500 responders started working 12-hour shifts, and the state's Public Safety Department preemptively placed generators across the state for use in areas hit the hardest, he said.
Oklahoma doesn’t wait for storm
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a disaster emergency for all 77 counties in the state in advance of the storm and issued an executive order suspending size and weight regulations for oversized vehicles to expedite relief efforts. The declaration states that Oklahoma's Emergency Operations Plan has been activated and the resources of all state departments and agencies will be available to meet the winter weather emergency.
“Emergency personnel are coordinating with state and local officials to ensure we are prepared and ready for whatever comes our way,” Fallin said in a statement.
In California, the storm brought heavy snowfall in higher elevations and led thousands of people to evacuate as rivers surged. Brown said the Pacific Ocean moisture that helped feed the storm has shifted south, creating the potential for ice and heavy rainfall in southern Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
“We're still going to have plenty of moisture to deal with. We could see some pretty strong storms as well,” Brown said. He said severe storms are possible south of the Red River.