Blizzard brings record snowfall to area, halts most travel
BY JARREL WADE, MICHAEL OVERALL and JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
2/04/11 at 2:19 PM
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A record snowfall closed area highways, stranded motorists and left emergency workers struggling to keep up today.
The National Weather Service said 14 inches of snow had fallen in Tulsa by 4 p.m. Tuesday, a 24-hour record.
Tulsa Public Schools and other closings have already been announced for Wednesday, and the storm is taking a major toll on the city's streets and state highways.
Highway closings included the Creek Turnpike from U.S. 169 to U.S. 412; portions of the Muskogee Turnpike; the Indian Nation Turnpike; the Will Rogers Turnpike; and portions of the Turner Turnpike.
The heavy snow caused a portion of roof to collapse at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Tulsa and docks to collapse at Grand Lake, damaging half a dozen boats.
In 33 years with the city's public works department, Paul Strizek hasn't seen such a severe combination of wind and deep snow drifts.
There's not a good route to tell drivers to take, Strizek said. His best advice: Think of a route that is the flattest to take, even if it's out of your way. Or better yet, stay home.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of cars stranded in the city, from private to emergency vehicles. Even with 4-wheel drive, people are having difficulty getting around," he said.
“It’s an ever-changing situation and we’re not winning the battle,” Strizek said. Crews were able to get one layer of salt down at 9 p.m. Monday, which they hope helped prevent the freezing rain from bonding with the roads.
Fifteen stranded motorists were staying in Red Cross shelters in the area at 3 p.m. Tuesday, and some expected to stay overnight.
There were six people at First United Methodist Church in Muskogee, three people at North Park Trinity Baptist Church in Claremore, two at the Family Praise Center in Vinita and one each at shelters in Henryetta, Miami, Broken Arrow and Okemah.
Conditions are so bad that the Tulsa World will not publish for the first time in its history because of the conditions, said World Publisher Robert E. Lorton III.
Many subscribers' couldn't find their Tuesday newspaper under the snow, a free version of the e-edition is available at tulsaworld.com/tuesdaypaper.
Trash will not be collected Wednesday in the city of Tulsa, city spokeswoman Michelle Allen said. Weather and road conditions will continue to be monitored to determine when the service will resume.
The Inner Dispersal Loop around downtown is open, but impassable, officials said.
The city's bus service was suspended after noon today, said Bill Cartwright, general manager of the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority.
He got stuck while riding one of the buses running early Tuesday near Sixth Street and Lewis.
“It’s rough out here,” he said.
The Tulsa Fire Department ended up rescuing many of passengers and drivers from stranded city buses, said fire spokesman Tim Smallwood.
Fire crews took bus drivers back the MTTA headquarters and riders where they needed to go, if possible. He even took some people where they needed to go in his personal vehicle.
Smallwood said trucks have been able to get around with the help of tire chains, but those are breaking or being thrown and "as soon as we do that, we're like everybody else."
Conditions have worsened as the day has worn on, he said, with more cars being abandoned on the roads. But most city streets are still passable for fire crews.
"They are in the way but they aren't lined up like they're blocking the entire street," Smallwood said.
Today's snowstorm dropped more snow than a foot of snow over much of northeast Oklahoma with some spots covered by more than 18 inches.
Many Tulsa police patrol cars are stuck in the snow while others are slowly patrolling the city and responding to calls, said Tulsa police Officer Leland Ashley.
One of the biggest jobs on Tuesday for officials is checking abandoned cars. Once police check for passengers, police and EMSA are marking vehicles with yellow and blue tape to show other emergency vehicles that the vehicle is clear, Ashley said.
Any cars stuck along the roadway that aren't marked should be called in to local authorities to be cleared, he said.
The Oklahoma National Guard has been put on stand-by to assist motorists who get stranded, said Albert Ashwood, director of the Office of Emergency Management.
Stranded motorists should call all 911 or *55, Ashwood said.
For information about road conditions, residents can call 1-888-425-2385, said Capt. Chris West of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
The National Weather Service's blizzard warning that went into effect at 6 p.m. Monday will continue through midnight Tuesday, according to the weather service.
David Jankowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Tulsa office, said very little ice fell at the onset of the storm, and any freezing rain quickly turned to sleet and snow Monday night.
At the weather service offices, people stayed overnight or came in very early so that the office would be staffed, Jankowski said.
"Some of the people who didn't have to come in stayed home," he said.
There is a chance of additional snow tonight and overnight, but it will be "pretty light," he said.
In the 12 hours from midnight to noon, EMSA crews responded to 106 calls with 35 people transported to area hospitals. EMSA Public Information Officer Chris Stevens said that is about a 25 percent increase over their normal call load.
Stevens said EMSA crews are "still battling the elements but going strong and will continue efforts as necessary."
"It's really not that big of a deal," he said. "We're pulling them out one at a time."
Stevens said a towing service has given EMSA priority today and has several tow trucks dedicated to pulling EMSA vehicles from snow.
"We're going to get through this, and just to reiterate, there is not a time that someone calls 911 and we can't get to them," Stevens said.
According to NWS data, the most snowfall in a single January day for Tulsa was 8.6 inches that fell in 1988.
The most snowfall ever recorded for Tulsa was 12.9 inches in March 1994, according to the NWS data.
Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday declared a state of emergency in all 77 counties as state officials prepared to respond to the storm headed for Oklahoma.
The declaration provides a formal mechanism for local governments to seek reimbursement for recovery costs though the state's disaster public assistance program should conditions warrant.
The declaration is also the first step toward seeking federal aid should it be necessary.
Tulsa firefighters did respond to one house fire overnight in the 4300 block of North 41st West Avenue, he said.
The home is in Osage County, but the local firefighters couldn't get out of the station, so they requested aid from TFD, Smallwood said.
No one was injured, he said.
By mid-morning in Rogers County, dispatchers had already received at least 100 calls of people being stuck in their vehicles in the high snow.
"911 is blowing off the hook with people off the road needing help," said dispatcher Laura Upton.
Two young men in a vehicle in Chelsea had to be rescued after they exited their vehicle, walked a distance and then lost sight of the vehicle, she said. Emergency workers pinged their phone to get their location at an intersection pole, and they were rescued by the Chelsea Fire Department about spending at least 30 minutes in the frigid temperatures, Upton said.
There was no immediate word if the pair needed hospitalization.
"I'm 25 calls behind," Upton said before hanging up the phone.
In Mayes County, emergency personnel had received at least 30 calls of vehicles stuck, dispatcher Amber Jensen said.
"It's pretty bad," she said. "... Deputies are getting by, barely."
A Skiatook police dispatcher said the snow is simply too deep for vehicles to manage.
"The snow is too high and their car is too low," she said.
Wayne Pierce, general manager of Storey Wrecker Service, said all their trucks are operating, but with the number of requests coming in, the wait for a wrecker to pull out a vehicle is several hours.
"We're trying to get to everybody as quick as we can," Pierce said around 3 p.m. Tuesday. "There are still people waiting who called in this morning."
Calls started coming in around 3 a.m. and have been steadily increasing since, he said.
Emergency personnel and private citizens have flooded their phones and wrecker requests, and dispatchers are doing their best to get some priority to their calls, Pierce said.
"This came on so fast, I'm not sure anybody was completely prepared for it," Pierce said.
Wreckers are mostly pulling cars out of ditches and snow drifts and getting them back on the road. However, if vehicles can't get out, they are taking them home, the body shop or wherever the driver needs them to go.
Wrecker crews are prepared to work through the night and day to get vehicles out.
"We got guys back at the shop right now sleep and getting ready to change shifts," Pierce said.
Check back with tulsaworld.com for more information as it becomes available.
P.J. Lassek contributed to this story.
Boats docks at Ugly John's Marina on Grand Lake on Tuesday. CASEY DAVIS/Courtesy
Jahan and his son Luke Abdoveis take advantage of the day off to play in the snow in their front yard Tuesday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Neighbors pitched in Tuesday morning to push a car out of a snow drift near 11th Street and Harvard Avenue on Tuesday. BILL SHERMAN/ Tulsa World
(Left) Gable Krebsbach, Matthew Miggins and Perry Black help a stranded motorist whose car got stuck at 21st and Utica intersection, Tuesday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
A police car as well as other cars stuck in the snow near 46th and Sheridan on Tuesday. TOM GILBERT/ Tulsa World
Tim Houchin walks up Fourth Street in the snow to work downtown Tuesday. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Carrie Robertson pulls her son Deyton, 6, on a sled down 15th in the snow Tuesday. Blizzard conditions struck the Tulsa area stranding motorists and shutting down much of the city. "I've never seen this much snow, " said Robertson. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Ila Dooley works to dig her car out to try and get to work on Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
A motorist passes on the Broken arrow expressway near Peoria avenue. ADAM WISNESKI / Tulsa World
A girl measures 12 inches of snow in Skiatook on Tuesday morning. KATHRYN COOPER/Tulsa World
An EMSA paramedic drives south on Peoria Avenue over the Broken Arrow Expressway as emergency authorities worked through the night and into Tuesday morning during a snowstorm. February 1, 2011. JARREL WADE / Tulsa World
JARREL WADE / Tulsa World
JARREL WADE / Tulsa World
A car stuck in the snow in the covered parking lot at Tulsa Promenade. SHERRY BROWN / Tulsa World
Workers try to clear snow from the Southroads Mall Shopping Center. SHERRY BROWN / Tulsa World
A truck stuck in the snow at 41st Street and Darlington Ave. SHERRY BROWN / Tulsa World