Skip to main content

Winter storm forces interstates, turnpikes closed in Oklahoma

Click to play
iReporting in a blizzard
  • NEW: Oklahoma governor orders state roads, interstates, turnpikes closed after declaring emergency
  • Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City closes, reports 12 inches of snow
  • Louisiana man killed when tree falls on house during strong winds
  • Storm likely will affect travel plans, Weather Service warns

(CNN) -- Oklahoma's governor ordered every state highway, interstate and turnpike closed Thursday night, hours after declaring a statewide emergency because of a major winter storm battering the state and the rest of the central U.S.

"I am urging all Oklahomans to take winter storm precautions and stay off the roads unless travel is absolutely necessary," Gov. Brad Henry said earlier in the day after declaring a state of emergency. "This is a very serious winter storm, and we want Oklahomans to stay safe."

Heavy snow and limited visibility has left treacherous road conditions in Oklahoma on Christmas Eve, snarling holiday travel, according to CNN affiliate KOCO-TV.

In Midwest City, Oklahoma, nearly 50 vehicles were involved in a chain-reaction accident, the station reported. The quickly accumulating snow also caused the roof collapse of a well-known, landmark furniture store in Oklahoma City, officials told KOCO-TV.

One motorist was killed Thursday in the storm on Interstate 44, south of Lawton, Oklahoma, Comanche County Public Information Officer Chris Killmer told CNN. Killmer said there are hundreds of car accidents and stranded motorists in Comanche County. He said officials were still sending out people to find stranded motorists. They had already rescued between 65 and 70 from the conditions Thursday.

A band of extremely heavy snow, capable of producing up to 4 inches of snow per hour, and isolated thunder was moving into northeast Oklahoma Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Gallery: Winter storm pounds central U.S.
Video: Snow covers Dallas
Video: Snow blankets Oklahoma City
Video: Hazardous driving conditions in Iowa

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City reported 13 inches of snow and was closed Thursday night. The airport's Web site said it did not expect to re-open Thursday night but should be open Friday morning.

In the past 106 years, residents of Oklahoma City have only awakened to snow six times on Christmas morning, CNN's Sean Morris said.

Blizzard warnings have been issued for central and southwestern Oklahoma, including Oklahoma City, and parts of northwestern Texas. Blizzard warnings also were issued for Nebraska, extreme western Iowa, western Missouri, North Dakota, much of north-central and northeastern South Dakota, and the Duluth area in Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Department of Transportation urged motorists to stay off the road Thursday night, saying it would be "life-threatening" based on forecasts from the Weather Service. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area had received about 4 to 7 inches of snow Thursday night from the storm, CNN affiliate KARE-TV reported.

Minnesota State Patrol Capt. Matt Langer told CNN that between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, the department had responded statewide to 630 calls regarding vehicles that went off the roadway, 276 property damage crashes and 60 personal injury crashes. He said there were no fatalities in any of those accidents, though one person was killed in a storm-related accident Wednesday night.

Northwest Texas has already seen between 3 and 7 inches of snow with 4-foot drifts, Morris said.

The Weather Service is forecasting up to 2 inches of snow in northwestern suburbs of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro.

"Anyone with travel plans over the Christmas holiday period should keep up to date with the latest weather information," said the Weather Service office in Duluth, Minnesota. "It should be emphasized that dangerous travel conditions will exist across most of the region from late tonight through Christmas."

A Louisiana man was killed Thursday when strong wind caused a tree to fall on his house, police told CNN affiliate KATC in Lafayette.

Police in Scott, just outside Lafayette, identified the victim as Ryan Hebert, 44.

Localized flooding was reported in and around Little Rock, Arkansas, after heavy rain fell throughout Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

An ice storm warning has been lifted for most of the Chicago metro area, but continues in the far southeastern suburbs.

An ice storm warning is also in effect for the mountains of North Carolina and southwestern Virginia. A winter storm watch is in effect for the mountains of western Virginia and northeastern West Virginia.

Over a quarter-inch of ice is expected on trees, power lines, overpasses, bridges and highways. But the freezing rain is expected to change over to rain later Thursday, and road conditions in the area are expected to improve across the region by midafternoon Thursday.

Flood watches, warnings and advisories have been issued for much of Missouri and Illinois, where several inches of rain is causing flooding in streams and rivers.

The inclement weather is the second major storm system to hit the United States in a week. Last weekend, a nor'easter blanketed a swath of the East Coast in snow, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

CNN's Sean Morris and Mallory Simon contributed to this report.