The Woodward News

February 25, 2013

Winter weather leads to local fatality

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Heavy snow led to at least one fatality in Woodward on Monday.
Woodward Emergency Manager Matt Lehenbauer said one person died after the snow caused a structure on the backside of a home to partially collapse in the 3600 block of 22nd Street. Curtis Haines, 71, died in the collapse, which has been ruled an accident by the state medical examiner's office, said Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer. Haines' services are pending with Billings Funeral Home.
In addition there were reports of an awning collapse at a gas station in Mooreland on Monday, Lehenbauer said.
Part of the outdoor portion of the garden center at Wal-Mart in Woodward also collapsed Monday.

On Tuesday, Lehenbauer said, "We've received reports of a partial roof collapse at the Siemens facility 5 miles west of Woodward.  But we're still waiting for more information about it."

However, he did say that no injuries were reported in connection with the possible structural damage at the Siemens facility.

Total official snowfall was around 16-18 inches in Woodward County, according to emergency management Facebook page with some areas receiving more. Reader reports on the Woodward News Facebook page indicated over 20 inches in some spots - in Woodward and area communities.

Lehenbauer declared a state of emergency in Woodward County Monday afternoon to last for the duration of the weather event.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, at the request of Gov. Mary Fallin, declared a state of emergency for much of the state including the counties in Northwest Oklahoma.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the Pioneer Room on 9th Street but as of early morning it had not been used. It remains on standby if needed.



STRANDED VEHICLES
The snow also led to several vehicles getting stranded on area roads, including a few emergency vehicles.  Lehenbauer said 5 firefighters in 3 fire vehicles plus an ambulance with a crew of 2 got stuck near County Road E/W 45 and Lakeview Drive while trying to respond to a reported fire Monday afternoon.

Fire Chief Steve Day said that his guys worked with city, county and some private industry workers to try to free the vehicles, but had to leave them out overnight.

"We're going back out to see if we can get the trucks recovered," Day told The News on Tuesday morning.
In addition, Lehenbauer reported that 4 county road clearing vehicles and 3 ODOT snow clearing vehicles also got stuck in the snow on Monday.  He said there was also a Woodward County Sheriff's deputy stranded 4 miles west of the Woodward-Major County line.
That's along with several drivers who ventured out only to get stuck or slide off the road.
"The problem we're having is that every time we send a vehicle out to try to rescue them, it gets stuck too," Lehenbauer said.

But by Tuesday morning, Lehenbauer reported that everyone they knew of who had been stranded was reached safely overnight.

Even after the snow had stopped on Tuesday, the emergency manager said some pieces of equipment were still getting caught in snow drifts, which measured 6 feet or more in some areas.
"Nothing smaller than a bulldozer isn't going to be able to make it through," he said.  "Even our regular sized road graders are having trouble getting around."



ROADS REMAIN CLOSED AS CLEARING CONTINUES

That's why Lehenbauer said that travel was still strongly discouraged, especially as roads and highways remained officially closed.

"If you don't have to be out, we want folks not to get out," he said.

Also as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, all roads in Beaver, Ellis, Harper and Woodward counties were still closed. Roads in the far Panhandle are clear.

There are some road closings in Major and Blaine Counties and roads were reported as slick and hazardous in Woods County.

The Department of Transportation said crews were coming in from other parts of Oklahoma to assist in trying to clear the roads.

In addition, Lehenbauer said, "the county commissioners and the city have really got everybody out trying to clear the roads.  And they've had them out since very early this (Tuesday) morning, ever since the snow stopped, and they'll be out well past dark tonight.  Those guys are working a lot of overtime trying to get this accomplished."

However, he said that area residents were not helping the situation as they were enticed by Tuesday's sunshine into getting out and about.

"We have so many drivers trying to get around that it's impeding our progress in getting roads clear," he said.

So while crews were working hard to clear roads as best they could on Tuesday, Lehenbauer said he didn't expect for roadways to be officially reopened "until tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at the earliest and more than likely it will be after lunch for most areas."

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said it responded to 32 non-injury collisions and 5 injury accidents due to the weather in its report late Monday. An OHP report issued around 3 p.m. Tuesday said no additional accidents had been reported.



POWER OUTAGES AND AREA CLOSINGS

Power outages have also been reported in some areas, though power problems are worse the farther east you go. A good part of Enid, including downtown, was without power overnight and was in the process of being restored Tuesday.

Lehenbauer said that around 1,500 customers in Woodward and surrounding counties remained without power on Tuesday afternoon.

"I know OG&E and Northwestern Electric crews are making every effort to get the power restored to those areas by tonight (Tuesday), but it's difficult because many of the areas are just inaccessible," he said.  "So that's where our priority for road clearing is, to try and get electric crews into those areas."

But like the road situation, Lehenbauer said he didn't expect power to be fully restored for most areas until sometime today.

"Power will come back on a little at a time as we are able to help crews get into the affected areas," he said.

Schools were all closed once again on Tuesday, but during the afternoon Northwestern Oklahoma State University said it would hold classes Wednesday. The university said if students did not feel like they could travel safely to classes, then stay home and notify their instructors via email or Blackboard. Late note: Due to some water issues in Alva, Northwestern on Wednesday morning canceled classes at all 3 of its campuses.

Woodward, Fort Supply, Sharon-Mutual and Mooreland schools all remain closed for Wednesday as do most of the schools in several surrounding counties.

Boiling Springs State Park also announced the following on Tuesday: "The roads at Boiling Springs State Park are impassible. We know it is a great place to come sledding and beautiful scenery during snowy days, but we ask that you not come out at this time. It is not safe. Once the county is able to clear the roads of snow, we will work to clear fallen tree limbs. Because of the amount of ice and snow, there may still be limbs that could fall. We are sorry for the inconvenience and hope to have the park back open as soon as possible. Please share this information with your friends. Thank you, The Staff of Boiling Springs State Park"

Also postponed is Wednesday's reception and scheduled announcement of Woodward's Teacher of the Year. That will be rescheduled at a later date.

FORECAST CLEAR FOR SHORT-TERM

Lehenbauer said that the short-term forecast "looks nice."

"It looks like it will be sunny and in the mid- to upper-30s for the rest of the week, mid-40s on Saturday, and mid-50s on Sunday," he said.

However, he said that because of the amount of snowfall and cooler temperatures, "we expect snow to stay on the ground at least until this weekend."

"The snow melt will be moderate to slow," Lehenbauer said.  "The sunshine should help quite a bit, but temperatures will be average for this time of year so it will take a while for the snow to melt off."

The emergency manager added that there's a chance that the area may only have time to get dug out of this latest round of snow before another storm could hit the area.

"Our concern is that the mid- to long-term forecast shows several storm systems starting to build up in the arctic," he said.  "What we're thinking is that in the late part of the first week of March we could get hit again."

However, as with most long range forecasts, that all could change.

"It's still a ways out so it may not be that accurate, but we are looking at some continued active weather for the next few weeks," Lehenabuer said.