Update, 8:45 a.m. Saturday: Release rates from the Keystone Dam continue to hold at about 255,000 cubic feet per second, but overnight precipitation throughout far northeast Oklahoma could prompt adjustments to that and other dams in the region.
Rainfall totals from Oklahoma Mesonet show Miami received 1.23 inches of new rainfall since midnight. Vinita received .8 inches of rain, while Tulsa and Porter saw .71 inches and .73 inches, respectively.
Data from the Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps indicates the Keystone reservoir inflow is nearly 265,000 cubic feet per second as of the 8 a.m. hour, a 7 percent increase from the rate recorded an hour earlier. At Fort Gibson Lake, the Corps reported a release rate of about 228,000 cfs compared to an inflow rate of about 236,500 cfs.
The Pensacola Dam at Grand Lake, meanwhile, is releasing water at a rate of nearly 189,000 cfs and has a release rate of about 171,000 cfs. Authorities are scheduled to release more information about Saturday's weather management plans at a 10:30 a.m. press conference.
The Arkansas River in Tulsa is at 22.22 feet Saturday morning, below forecasters' projections of 23 feet, though the river is still considered as being at major flood stage. The Caney River at Collinsville is no longer at its high of 37.1 feet but is still within the major flood stage threshold at 33.8 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Tulsa. It is projected to fall out of major flood stage Sunday morning if there is no more precipitation.
Bird Creek near Owasso, which was at major flood stage Friday night, is now within the moderate flood range at 21.98 feet. The NWS Tulsa office issued an updated flood warning at 9:40 a.m. Saturday for the Verdigris River near Claremore, which is at nearly 42 feet and could rise to near 46 feet by Sunday afternoon.
The NWS reported that if the river reaches 46 feet, "disastrous flooding" will occur between the Oologah Dam and areas downstream from the gage at Highway 20. That would flood homes west of Claremore near Blue Starr Drive and Lowery Road and would exceed the major flood of Oct. 14, 1986.
Floodwaters in the area prompted the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to announce at 5 a.m. Saturday the closures of numerous roads until further notice. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority on Friday said it would allow motorists to use the Muskogee Turnpike free of charge at least through the weekend from the U.S. 69 entrance to Oklahoma 165, as U.S. 62 is closed between Oklahoma 80 near Fort Gibson and Oklahoma 165.
Oklahoma 10 is also closed at Big Greenleaf Creek, which is 3 1/2 miles south of Braggs, according to ODOT, as well as two miles east of its junction with U.S. 62. U.S. 69 is closed north of Muskogee, and ODOT recommends the use of Oklahoma 51 or another alternate route.
Muskogee County Emergency Management officials reported Friday evening that the town of Braggs likely will not have power until water recedes. The town can still be accessed via Oklahoma 82 coming south from Tahlequah, which will lead motorists through county roads beginning west of Paradise Hill.
The Town of Fort Gibson also issued an evacuation order for those in areas west of Lee Street, though some portions of the town were reported to have their power restored. OG&E continues to work on fixing power outages in the region, according to the emergency management agency's Facebook page.
In Tulsa County, Oklahoma 51 west of Oklahoma 97 in Sand Springs has been closed at both directions since Thursday evening after water overtook the roadway, flooding low-lying neighborhoods there.
A full list of northeast Oklahoma road closures is below:
- SH-80 is closed four miles west of Hulbert near Fort Gibson Lake.
- SH-80 is closed near the Canyon Rd. access area just north of Fort Gibson.
• SH-127 is closed near Jay just west of US-59 due to a damaged drainage structure.
• US-77 is closed between SH-156 and southern Tonkawa.
• SH-9A is closed northeast of Spiro, west of Fort Smith, Ark.
• SH-82 is closed at Grand River south of Langley.
- SH-10 is closed at Big Greenleaf Creek 3.5 miles south of Braggs.
- SH-10 is closed two miles east of the US-62 junction near Fort Gibson.
- US-62 is closed between SH-80 near Fort Gibson and SH-165 in Muskogee.
- SH-104 is closed at Coal Creek near Haskell.
- SH-10 is closed east of US-169 near Lenapah due to damage to a drain.
- • SH-28 is closed between US-60 and US-169.
- SH-125 is closed one mile south of SH-10 in Miami.
- US-59/SH-10 is closed one mile west of US-69 near Miami.
- SH-10 is closed between US-69 to one mile east of the SH-69A junction in Miami.
- SH-69A is closed 1.5 miles north of SH-10 near Miami.
- US-69 is closed between SH-125 and US-59/SH-10 near Miami.
• US-169 is closed eight miles north of SH-88
- SH-64D is closed east of Roland, west of Fort Smith, Ark.
- US-64/SH-100 is closed from the US-64/SH-100 junction to east of the Ray Fine bridge near Gore.
• SH-51 is closed just west of SH-97 near Sand Springs.
- Southbound US-69 is closed north of Muskogee at the Arkansas River. Drivers should use SH-51 or locate an alternate route now.
- SH-16 is closed near the Muskogee Turnpike just north of Muskogee.
- SH-16 is closed northwest of Okay.
- SH-72 is closed from East 201st south to just north of the Arkansas River bridge near Coweta
• SH-123 is closed between Bartlesville and Dewey.
A previous version of this story, which appeared in Saturday's Tulsa World, is below:
City and county officials said they believe the Arkansas River’s floodwaters will stabilize through Sunday but want the public to remain cautious and prepared in the event more rain falls and scraps those plans.
At a Friday news conference, officials updated flood conditions throughout Tulsa County, addressed flow rates from the Keystone Dam and urged people to stay away from the water, with Tulsa’s mayor sharply criticizing parents who allowed their children to play in the floodwaters.
The river reached 22 feet, the edge of major flood stage, on Friday morning and is expected to stay there as long as the Keystone Dam continues its release at 250,000 cubic feet per second.
The river level was lower Friday morning than the initial forecast of 23 feet, in part because experts believe last week’s high-volume release likely increased the river’s capacity ever so slightly.
“Fortunately, that week of high release prior to this event seems to have scoured out the river,” said Joe Kralicek, director of the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency. “I think that’s saved a lot of homes and a lot of people.”
The Arkansas River’s distinctive sandbars through the Tulsa area were likely swept away under the pressure of 100,000 cubic feet per second last week, Kralicek said.
That scouring made the river channel about 9 inches deeper in the Tulsa area, something Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said made a big difference in mitigating some of the flooding along the riverfront.
Despite this, the current release is the heaviest load on Tulsa County levees since 1986. The flow itself isn’t the greatest concern; it’s the length of time those levees are under pressure.
Bynum said a crew from Crossland Construction worked through the night Thursday in the Garden City neighborhood to build a new levee to contain a leak.
“I want to give a deep sense of gratitude and thanks to the team at Crossland Construction,” Bynum said. “This morning, that new levee is in place, and it is protecting the Garden City neighborhood.”
An estimated 1,100 Tulsa residents were affected by flooding. About 700 more, between Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby, also were impacted. An estimated 160 homes in Broken Arrow were expected to be affected, an official said.
There have been no reported injuries or deaths due to flooding in the Tulsa area, according to a city spokeswoman.
Statewide, emergency management officials report 83 injuries in connection to the severe weather and flooding. Two deaths have been attributed to flooding and severe weather: a 53-year-old woman in Payne County and a 58-year-old man in Stephens County.
Also, a woman died from a medical issue while seeking shelter from a tornado in Jay this week, according to the town’s police chief.
Friday morning, Bynum said a flyover gave him a new perspective on the flood control measures built across Tulsa through the years.
“The main thing that stands out to me in looking at that is tremendous gratitude for the people that came before us in decades past who fought to build the levee system we have that is working the way it’s supposed to,” Bynum said. “(They) thought to utilize our River Parks network as a buffer for flooding events between the river corridor and the built environment of the city; and the River Parks are serving that purpose right now.”
Although officials believed the planned water release from Keystone would be enough through Sunday, that plan depends on weather.
Storms that produced flash flood warnings developed west of Tulsa on Friday night and moved eastward. A flash flood watch is in effect until 7 p.m. Wednesday for Tulsa, Craig, Creek, Nowata, Osage, Pawnee, Rogers and Washington counties.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford said during the news conference that Keystone Dam is working as designed but what happens next depends on the weather.
“We need to right now pray for no rain,” Lankford said. “And we need to stay out of the water.”
The problematic forecast is why officials want the public to remain aware.
Kralicek said the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency has prepared for the possibility of a release of more than 300,000 cubic feet per second from the Keystone Dam. Outflow from the dam was at 255,000 cfs Friday night and inflow had dropped from nearly 320,000 at its peak to 240,000.
“We planned for the flood of record, which is 307,000 cubic feet per second,” Kralicek said. “We’re well below our established plan where we’re at right now. Rest assured, even if the water comes up a bit, we are ready to act. The community at large, we have been preparing for this.”