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Yet another storm slams South

Faith-based disaster response organizations distribute blankets to Texas residents hit by extreme cold

BY JOHN PAPE | HOUSTON, TX | February 11, 2011

Less than a week after being all but paralyzed by a record-setting winter storm that claimed at least three lives, Oklahoma has again been hit with record-low temperatures and more snow.

The same storm system left much of northern Arkansas buried under as much as two feet of snow, while Texas struggled with sub-freezing temperatures that taxed the state’s electric grid and left utility managers pleading with residents to conserve power to avoid rolling blackouts.

The freezing temperatures in Texas even reached the southernmost part of the state near the Mexican border, prompting the Disciples of Christ and the Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries to distribute more than 1000 blankets in poverty-stricken areas of the Rio Grande Valley.

The latest winter storm the third major winter storm of 2011 and the eighth of the season dropped snow on Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama on Wednesday, and then continuing through Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday.

Oklahoma

Bartlesville, located in northeast Oklahoma near the Kansas border, set a new record low for the state of -28 degrees at 7:19 a.m. Thursday. That record did not last long. Twenty-one minutes later, the nearby community of Nowata recorded a low of -31 degrees, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather system.

The Oklahoma Mesonet is a network of environmental monitoring stations operated by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. The system consists of 120 automated stations across the state, with at least one Mesonet station in each of the state’s 77 counties.

Oklahoma’s previous record low was -27 degrees, set in Vinita in 1905 and again in Watts in 1930.

Compounding the bitter temperatures were power outages across much of the state that left thousands without heat or light. Even as Nowata was setting the record low, local utility Public Service Company of Oklahoma was reporting more than 3,000 customers were without power in the county of 10,000 residents. Additionally, PSO said another 1,200 customers were without power in Lawton in southern Oklahoma.

Company spokesman Ed Bettinger said the company was still investigating the cause of the outages.

Another major utility, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, reported more than 4,700 outages in the Oklahoma City area. Those power losses were reportedly caused by the failure of a circuit breaker.

OG&E and PSO are Oklahoma’s largest power utilities. By contrast, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives spokesman Sid Sperry said there were no reported power outages among the state’s smaller, primarily rural, electric co-ops.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said there had been 240 winter storm-related injuries requiring hospitalization across the state since the bitter weather began Feb. 2. On Wednesday alone, 160 injuries were reported, with 111 of those being from falls.

Even the Oklahoma Legislature, in its first week of a new session, was affected by the weather. Legislators cancelled all sessions scheduled for the remainder of the week. Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele said lawmakers were concerned over the long distances some legislators had to drive to reach the state capitol.

Three deaths, all vehicle-related, have been attributed to the storm systems.

Arkansas

Parts of Arkansas received up to 24 inches of snow, mostly in the northwest part of the state. Road conditions became so hazardous that the state Highway and Transportation Department was force to close Interstate 540 for a period of time. State troopers, unable to navigate the treacherous roads in their regular patrol cars, responded to wrecks and stranded motorist calls in National Guard humvees.

Gov. Mike Beebe ordered all Little Rock area state offices closed because of the weather and dangerous driving conditions. He also released $25,000 from the Governor's Disaster Fund on Wednesday to help the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management with response to the winter storm.

Arkansas State Police reported three deaths on snow- and ice-covered roads.

A woman and a child died when a sport-utility vehicle crashed into a tractor trailer and another vehicle on Interstate 40 near the community of Brinkley. Troopers identified the dead as 23-year-old Barbara McLane and one-year-old Aiden McLane. Both were identified as residents of Cape Canaveral, Fla. Two other children and an adult were injured in the wreck, but were expected to recover.

A Texas woman died in a separate crash on Interstate 40 near Little Rock. The victim was identified as Linda E. Sample, 57, of West Rutherford, Tex.

As the storm hit, Alexandria, La., resident Byron Hebert managed to find shelter in a motel just off Interstate 540 near Fayetteville. He said snow was “coming down sideways” when he saw the motel sign just as he reached an exit ramp.

“God was telling me to get off the road,” Hebert said. “I was lucky; there were only a few rooms left. I’m thankful I didn’t wait any longer or I would have been one of those people they had to rescue out of my car.”

Hebert said he was traveling to his brother’s home in Joplin, Mo., when the storm hit. Ironically, he delayed the trip by a week because of last week’s “Groundhog Day Storm.”

“I called my brother last night from the hotel room. I told him I was eating a cold sandwich and some chips from a (convenience store) across the street instead of the venison steaks he promised me,” Hebert said. “I also told him I was turning around and going home until June. From now on, I’m only coming to visit in the summer.”

Even the legendary Harlem Globetrotters basketball team found themselves victims of the storm after their tour bus became stranded on a snow-covered highway between Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn.

Texas

While Texas dodged the major snowfall seen in Oklahoma, large parts of the state experienced sleet and freezing rain that closed schools, businesses and roads and caused power outages in the Houston area.

Unlike last week’s ice storm that all but shut down Houston, a city unaccustomed to winter weather, this time the precipitation line halted just west of Texas’ largest city. Still, much of the rural area between Austin and Houston was coated with ice leaving transportation officials scrambling to sand bridges and overpasses for a second time in less than a week.

Delivery driver Craig Rodgers stopped at a truck stop just west of Houston to refuel. As the pump ran, Rodgers kicked icicles off his truck.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to drive in ice twice within a week. It’s a really been an unusual winter for south Texas,” he said.

While Houston streets and freeways remained open, the ice did have an effect on the city’s power. Icing on electric transmission lines caused power outages across western parts of the Houston metropolitan area. More than 58,000 customers were without power for much of Wednesday afternoon.

While Texas avoided the rolling blackouts experienced during last week’s winter blast, power officials continued to urge energy conservation to avoid overtaxing the state’s electric grid.

The ice even reached to the southernmost tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, a semi-tropical area known for its palm trees, citrus groves and year-round warm weather similar to southern Florida. The bitter cold caught many residents by surprise, leaving less fortunate families struggling to stay warm.

The Disciples of Christ and Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries distributed more than 1,000 blankets to refugees and other residents vulnerable to the cold temperatures.


Related Topics:

Winter storms could spell doom for some churches

Bitter cold forecast for Northeast

Snow? Whoa! New England braces for even more!


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