Oklahomans digging out after latest winter storm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As the mayor of the small Oklahoma town of Jay, Wayne Dunham wears many hats, and after a winter storm dumped 25 inches of snow on the area, one of them was road maintenance crewman.

"I'm the mayor, street clearer — whatever needs to be done. But I'm worn out after shoveling all this snow," Dunham said Wednesday afternoon.

According to the National Weather Service, the town of about 2,500 received the most snowfall from the second major winter storm to pound Oklahoma in a little over a week. In northern Oklahoma, snowfall amounts exceeding a foot were common.

Snow whipped by winds gusting more than 20 mph brought traffic to a halt, and the National Guard was again summoned to rescue stranded motorists. No deaths were reported, but the Oklahoma State Department of Health said there had been 80 injuries, mostly from falls.

Tim Self, a highway road maintenance worker for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation in Jay, said conditions were "miserable" when he started clearing roads early Wednesday.

"I couldn't hardly see the snow plow in front of the truck. We did all we could just keep a lane open," said Self, who was preparing Wednesday night for another shift.

Not far from Jay, about 200 truck drivers sought shelter at a truck stop at the intersection of Interstate 44 and U.S. Highway 69, about 60 miles northeast of Tulsa.

Truck driver Mike Mallory was hauling chemicals from Houston to Iowa when he pulled into the Big Cabin Travel Plaza as the weather worsened.

"It was a rude awakening when I got up this morning," Mallory said. "I can't even see the tollway from the parking lot."

National Guard troops used heavy wreckers to assist several large tractor-trailers that were stuck near Big Cabin, and Humvees were used to help some stranded motorists, Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said.

In Tulsa, roads were still impassable after last week's record 14-inch snowfall. The 5 inches that fell Wednesday raised the city's total for the winter to 25.9 inches, breaking the previous seasonal record of 25.6 inches, set during the winter of 1923-24.

The storm made travel unsafe, forcing Greyhound to drop off about 50 bus passengers at a shelter set up by a Tulsa church. Company spokesman Timothy Stokes said they were given the option of staying at the bus terminal or the shelter, and that they would be picked up to continue the trip when it's safe to travel.

Dean Guay, 23, was travelling from New York to California for a job.

"Everything was going fine until Oklahoma, then it went crazy," Guay said Wednesday. He hoped to make it to California by Saturday.

Pete Snyder, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, said the back-to-back storms are unusual for northeastern Oklahoma, which is more prone to sleet and freezing rain.

Besides lots of snow, the storm left bitterly cold air in place. The weather service has issued a wind chill advisory for much of Oklahoma for wind chills that could fall into the minus 5- to 10 degrees below zero range.

Ooten said the bitter cold can often cause additional problems for rescue workers and emergency personnel.

"It's just one more element they've got to deal with," she said.

Mills Gotcher, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department, said vehicles driven by road crews are equipped with heat, and workers know to bundle up in subfreezing conditions. Employees work in 12-hour shifts and take frequent breaks, Gotcher said.

Ooten said one cause for optimism is that temperatures across the entire state should be above freezing by Friday.

"The good news is we don't have another winter storm heading our way next week," she said. "We don't have that major hurdle staring us in the face this time."