Oklahoma health officials say the flu death toll reaches 173

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Department of Health says 173 people have died during a record-setting flu season in which 3,860 people have been hospitalized with flu-related symptoms.

Health officials said Thursday that five people have died in the state and 300 have been hospitalized with the flu since Feb. 14.

The number of deaths and hospitalizations since the flu season began Sept. 1 surpass any flu season since the department began tracking the illness in 2009. The previous record of 130 deaths was set last year.

So far this season, more than 2,000 Oklahomans over the age of 65 and almost 500 under 18 have been hospitalized due to complications from the flu.

Health department records show most flu-related deaths this season, 117, were among people 65-years-old or older.

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Medical marijuana advocate faces drug charge in Oklahoma

MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) — A medical marijuana advocate from Colorado is facing a felony drug charge after an Oklahoma traffic stop.

The McAlester News-Capital reports Regina Nelson of Boulder faces one count of marijuana possession with intent to distribute. Nelson's adult son and a fellow advocate also were arrested Sunday after the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stop near McAlester.

All were released on bond and have pleaded not guilty.

Court paperwork says a trooper stopped the vehicle for failing to use a turn signal. A search found four joints, 11 containers with what appeared to be cannabis leaves, oil capsules and hand cream.

McAlester attorney Brecken Wagner is representing Nelson and says she was targeted for a Colorado license plate. Nelson has scheduled speaking engagements in Oklahoma, where voters will consider legalizing medical marijuana in June.

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Oklahoma City receives rare lake effect snow from storm

By Ken Miller, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City, meet the Great Lakes.

A weather event known as lake effect snow that's common in the upper Midwest and northeastern U.S., made a rare appearance at Oklahoma City's Lake Hefner on Wednesday.

Meteorologist Ryan Barnes with the National Weather Service in Norman said an area south of the lake in western Oklahoma City received lake effect snow about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"Very rare," Barnes said Thursday. "It's very unusual ... it definitely was snow."

The weather event can produce heavy snow in the Great Lakes, but Barnes said it resulted in only a dusting, "less than an inch for sure," in Oklahoma City.

Lake effect snow occurs when cold air moves over warmer, moist air of a body of water. Barnes said conditions that determine whether an area will get lake effect snow include wind direction, orientation of the lake and temperatures both above the storm and at ground level.

"It can occur where there's any body of water that's warm enough, but the conditions have to be nearly perfect," and those conditions are not commonly seen outside the Great Lakes.

With a northeasterly wind and temperatures at 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-4.44 Celsius) Wednesday night, the conditions for lake effect snow were marginal, according to Barnes.

"Basically, you flip a coin and you might get snow," Barnes said.

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Wintry weather slows cleanup following Oklahoma oil spill

By The Associated Press

YUKON, Okla. (AP) — A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency says wintry weather has slowed cleanup of about 2,000 barrels of oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline in suburban Oklahoma City.

The EPA'S Mike McAteer said Thursday workers are still skimming oil off the surface of a 7-acre pond near a neighborhood outside Yukon, about 17 miles (27 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City. The oil bubbled into the pond early Sunday from a pipeline operated by Centurion Pipeline L.P.

McAteer says the spill caused a "pretty sizable fish kill" in the pond. But he says sleet and sub-freezing temperatures have slowed cleanup efforts, including the removal of hundreds of dead fish.

McAteer says Centurion plans to replace a 90-foot section of pipe that's beneath the pond to prevent further releases.

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1 fatal Oklahoma crash due to weather, more flights delayed

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — At least one fatal traffic accident is being attributed to a storm that's brought heavy rain and ice to Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says 53-year-old Victor French of Stilwell drowned Wednesday when he drove onto a flooded bridge near Stilwell and was swept off the roadway.

The OHP says another fatal crash was due to driving too fast on a wet road and a third crash occurred on an icy roadway, but the cause is still under investigation.

At Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, at least 11 flights had been canceled Thursday morning as icy conditions continued.

The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and numerous schools in the western half of the state remained closed Thursday.

Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing Thursday afternoon.

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Across-the-board cuts pending in bill on governor's desk

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A bill to impose across-the-board cuts to all state agencies, including public schools, for the remainder of the fiscal year is heading to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin, who has indicated she plans to sign it.

The Oklahoma Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to the general appropriations bill, which funds state agencies through June 30.

Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said Thursday the governor and her staff are expected to review the bill, but that she likely won't sign it until next week.

The Legislature still has a few loose ends to tie up with the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. They must appropriate $19 million to public schools after a panel determined this week that's how much lottery revenue the Legislature diverted from education funding in this year's budget.

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14 Oklahoma counties could lose right to sell beer

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Up to 14 counties in Oklahoma might lose their right to sell beer after a new law taking effect in October replaces low-alcohol beer with stronger beer.

Counties will be required to have liquor-by-the-drink sales approved in order to sell beer in restaurants and bars once 3.2-percent beer is unavailable beginning Oct. 1, The Journal Record reported.

The new law was approved in 2016 with an intentional two-year lag to allow the state's dry counties to react.

Major and Ellis counties approved liquor-by-the-drink this year, leaving 14 holdout counties.

The Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission has tried to inform the counties about the pending changes, said Director Keith Burt.

"There are people in dry counties that are used to having a beer with their pizza, and when 3.2 beer goes away, that won't be possible," Burt said.

Burt said the commission is encouraging the remaining counties to take advantage of the June 26 primary election that will include gubernatorial candidates.

Harper County Clerk Karen Hickman and Alfalfa County Clerk Lanette Unruh said their counties are expected to vote on liquor-by-the-drink on June 26. Unruh said she thinks about two-thirds of the county will vote to approve the measure.

Hickman said there are only a couple of places in Harper County that sell alcohol. She said she's concerned that the county won't approve the measure.

"It will take some educating of the public," she said.

Hughes County Clerk Carolyn A. Preble said county commissioners have discussed how to get the measure on a ballot, but that nothing has been made official. Caddo County Clerk Patrice Dolch said commissioners are also discussing liquor laws.