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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Wicked winter: storm arrives with sleet, snow

  • A winter storm arrived in the area Thursday with freezing rain and sleet, which prompted many closings and made for interesting driving conditions that were expected to worsen into the overnight hours. And with more sleet and snow expected, emergency responders and road crews will likely be busy again today.
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  • A winter storm arrived in the area Thursday with freezing rain and sleet, which prompted many closings and made for interesting driving conditions that were expected to worsen into the overnight hours. And with more sleet and snow expected, emergency responders and road crews will likely be busy again today.
    Late Thursday, Don Lynch, Shawnee's emergency management director, reported roadways were slush in some areas and slick and hazardous in others, with road crews out treating many areas.
    "The intersection of I-40 and U.S. 177 remains particularly slick and hazardous because of the elevated roadway," he said, adding that he anticipated the roads with slush would become treacherous overnight.
    As the first wave came through and glazed area roadways, conditions were getting worse.
    "Roads are slick and hazardous," said Pottawatomie County commissioner Eddie Stackhouse, who decided to close the courthouse early on Thursday. The Pottawatomie County courthouse and all Pottawatomie County government buildings remain closed today because of the weather.
    Shawnee Municipal Airport is also closed today as weather conditions are impacting runways.
    Pottawatomie County Undersheriff Travis Palmer said county roads were slick and he advised drivers to take it slow and easy.
    "The best thing people can do is go home and stay inside," Stackhouse added.
    Tecumseh Assistant Police Chief J.R. Kidney agreed. As roads became worse there, he said Tecumseh city hall closed early, along with many businesses in Tecumseh, as icy roadways affected drivers.
    "Stopping and starting is a little tricky," Kidney said.
    As many were trying to stock up on necessities, Kidney advised people to get inside and stay warm as roads were expected to get much worse overnight and into this morning.
    "These roads are not going to be anything you want to drive on," Kidney said, "And I don't see them improving over the weekend."
    Area police, along with agencies across the state, also were following one system to keep track of many vehicles that could be left in ditches because of the storm.
    All law enforcement agencies were being asked to use yellow crime scene or caution tape to mark any abandoned vehicles that officers have checked to indicate they are all clear and there is no one still inside. Kidney hoped that system would cut down on unnecessary 911 calls. If drivers see a vehicle in a ditch and it is marked with yellow crime scene or caution tape somewhere, that means it has been checked by police, he said.
    Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz said as the roads worsened Thursday evening and into the overnight period, officers would not be responding to minor, non-injury traffic or parking lot accidents. For those, he asks that drivers exchange information and get the roadway cleared. The chief said drivers can contact the police department later for an incident report for those types of calls. Officers also were being careful during the storm.
    Page 2 of 4 - "During this severe weather officers are encouraged to take minor report calls by phone and limit non-emergency driving," the chief said. "Our response times will be slower and we will try to keep people available to respond to true emergency calls."
    As the storm impacted this area, area paramedics also warned resident to be safe and avoid injuries from falls or dangerously low temperatures.
    REACT EMS Director Greg Reid advised people to stay home and inside and only go out if absolutely necessary.
    "If you go to get mail or something outside, take your phone with you - have a way to call if you should fall," Reid said.
    And those attempting to drive are reminded to dress as though they have to be outside of the car for a while.
    "Too many people under dress and get caught walking or trying to work on getting their cars from being stuck," Reid said, advising motorists to taking water and a snack in case they have to wait for emergency help to arrive.
    The Oklahoma Highway Patrol was reporting roads as slick and treacherous Thursday afternoon and troopers also expected worsening conditions as the night progressed.
    Pottawatomie County Commissioner Melissa Dennis said getting salt down before much of the precipitation Thursday seemed to help.
    "We're still going to various intersections and dangerous hills," she said late Thursday, reminding drivers to be careful and slow down in these conditions.
    Governor Mary Fallin on Thursday also declared a State of Emergency for all 77 Oklahoma counties due to the winter storm impacting the state.
    Because the weather event is expected to include prolonged sub-freezing temperatures, dangerous road conditions and power outages, emergency management authorities recommended issuing this declaration before the full brunt of the storm arrived. The declaration allows state agencies to make emergency purchases related to disaster relief and preparedness. It is also a first step toward seeking federal assistance should it be necessary.
    Governor Fallin also warned Oklahomans to stay off the roads if at all possible.
    "The weather is bad and getting worse," she said Thursday afternoon. "Emergency personnel are coordinating with state and local officials to ensure we are prepared and ready for whatever comes our way."
    Because house fires tend to rise during these winter events, the American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma offered these safety tips:
    • All heaters need space. Keep all things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.
    • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
    Page 3 of 4 - • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
    • Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.
    •Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.
    • If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.
    Also with the cold temperatures, people need to be careful of frostbite and hypothermia.
    • Frostbite and hypothermia are cold-related emergencies that may quickly become life or limb threatening. Preventing cold-related emergencies includes not starting an activity in, on, or around cold water unless you know you can get help quickly in an emergency. Be aware of the wind chill. Dress appropriately and avoid staying in the cold too long. Wear a hat and gloves when appropriate with layers of clothing. Drink plenty of warm fluids or warm water but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Stay active to maintain body heat. Take frequent breaks from the cold. Avoid unnecessary exposure of any part of the body to the cold. Get out of the cold immediately if the signals of hypothermia or frostbite appear.
    Frostbite is the freezing of a specific body part such as fingers, toes, the nose or earlobes. Signals of frostbite include:
    lack of feeling in the affected area; skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch, or is discolored (flushed, white or gray, yellow or blue).
    Hypothermia is another cold-related emergencies. Hypothermia may quickly become life threatening. Hypothermia is caused by the cooling of the body caused by the failure of the body's warming system. The goals of first aid are to restore normal body temperature and to care for any conditions while waiting for EMS personnel. Signals of hypothermia include: shivering, numbness, glassy stare; apathy, weakness, impaired judgment; loss of consciousness.
    The latest forecast for the Shawnee area shows:
    • Friday: Snow likely, mainly before 9 a.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 23. North wind 9 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 21 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.
    • Friday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 7. Wind chill values as low as -5. North northeast wind around 9 mph.
    Because of the weather, the city of Shawnee on Thursday decided to postpone the annual downtown Christmas parade. The parade has been rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12.
    The "Cans Film Festival," which is typically held at the Hornbeck Theatre the night of the parade, also has been postponed until Dec. 12.
    Page 4 of 4 - Watch for updates.
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