LIVE UPDATES: Oklahoma Reckons With Severe Winter Storm
Updated February 18 at 5:25 p.m.
In the wake of this week’s damage to the state's water infrastructure, Oklahoma could soon face mandatory boil orders. Environment officials anticipate the damage and response will continue for weeks.
The Department of Environmental Quality issued a release on Thursday, warning that precautionary boil advisories could increase in coming days, and that mandatory boil orders are possible.
The release advised Oklahomans with extremely low water pressure or total water loss to notify their water service provider as quickly as possible and follow these recommendations:
- Once the water comes back on, flush the water for five minutes or until fresh, clear water comes out of the tap.
- Boil the water at a hard, rolling boil for at least one minute before consumption, drinking, use in food preparation (including baby formula), brushing teeth, making ice, wound care, and bathing infants who may ingest the water, or use another drinking water source such as bottled water until the tap water is safe to drink again.
- It is recommended to continue boiling the water (or use bottled water) for at least 72 hours or until your water system says the water is safe to drink again, whichever comes later.
The Oklahoma Rural Water Association is urging those operating water or wastewater systems to diligently monitor their systems and have back-up plans if a power outage occurs.
“During these severe winter storms we urge our systems to be prepared for the worst case scenario,” said ORWA Deputy CEO, Jimmy Seago. “With temperatures in the single digits and wind chills reaching negative degrees, water and wastewater systems need to be taking preventative measures to protect the system itself and continue to provide for Oklahomans.”
Updated February 18 at 12:44 p.m.
Oklahoma City has been struggling to meet its water demand, and that will likely continue after the snow melts and temperatures rise above freezing.
Like power infrastructure across the state, Oklahoma City’s water infrastructure was stressed to the breaking point this week. The cold created a surge in demand. Dripping faucets drove water use up by 100 percent, according to city utilities director Chris Browning.
Additionally, the weather taxed the city’s ability to provide water. Power outages left facilities in the dark, and it was so cold that diesel for generators froze. Of course, burst pipes across the city affected the system. There have also been water main breaks.
"Even when the temperatures recover, our problems are not over. We have soils here in Oklahoma City that are very fluid," said Browning. "When they freeze and then they thaw, we're going to see more main breaks next week."
But after the thaw, residents won’t need to drip faucets, he said, so demand will be lower.
Updated February 18 at 10:11 a.m.
Water problems continue in the city of Tulsa as the Mohawk Water Treatment Plant had to be shut down Wednesday due to a water leak. The plant pumps 30 million gallons per day.
The back-up pump failed to start, but city crews hope to get that up and running sometime Thursday. As a result, some residents will experience low water pressure.
Meanwhile, KWGS reports that at least 1,634 homes were completely without water Thursday morning due to broken water lines.
The city is encouraging those without water to visit a "water station" at River Spirit Expo, 4145 E. 21st Street. Residents can bring their own containers to fill up daily between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., until further notice.
Stillwater resdients are being asked to conserve water after the electric provider to the Kaw pump station lost power Wednesday night. The pumps froze as a result and maintainence crews are working to remedy the situation. There is also a major leak at 19th Avenue and Jardot Road that is causing low water pressure for some residents.
Updated February 18 at 9:35 a.m.
Oklahoma's federal disaster declaration request has been granted by President Joe Biden.
The declaration allows all 77 counties, cities and tribes to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for costs related to mass care and sheltering residents. The emergency declaration would also allow FEMA to authorize and provide federal resources and equipment to help state and local governments in Oklahoma.
Updated February 17 at 6:27 p.m.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt requested a federal disaster declaration Wednesday for all 77 counties due to the record low temperatures and heavy snow from the recent winter storms.
President Joe Biden spoke with Stitt and governors from Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Tennessee and Mississippi on Tuesday. The readout from the call said Biden affirmed federal emergency resources were ready to be delpoyed to affected states.
“Yesterday President Biden pledged the federal government’s support for Oklahoma when we spoke by phone,” said Stitt. “I am now urging the President and his administration to act quickly and deliver on our request to help Oklahomans recover from this historic storm.”
I just got off the phone with @POTUS about the effects of this winter storm.— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) February 16, 2021
I asked him to help Oklahomans with the substantial increase in energy bills that will likely be coming our way and he pledged his support.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your time and your help. #okwx pic.twitter.com/krHiAwnyhw
If approved, the disaster declaration would allow for reimbursement to cities, counties and tribes of eligible expenses for mass care and sheltering operations and would authorize federal resources to assist state and local governments in responding to the winter storms.
Updated February 17 at 5:40 p.m.
With this week’s winter storm and cold snap, getting out on frozen lakes, ponds and rivers could be tempting. But Oklahoma City Fire Department Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson warned against it in a briefing with city officials.
"It’s something that could get really bad really quickly, and we’re here to help. But don’t make us come get in that water, and more importantly, we want to keep you out of that water," Fulkerson said.
He also warned against leaving space heaters unattended, especially underneath homes. Fulkerson said the department has responded to four fires sparked by heaters placed under houses to keep pipes warm.
Updated February 17 at 10:11 a.m.
Cities across Oklahoma are dealing with water line breaks amid record cold temperatures and power outages.
On Wednesday morning, https://youtu.be/_MNKfpnDyao" target="_blank">Tulsa officials reported roughly 600 homes and nine businesses are without water due to more than 120 water line breaks.
"With all the breaks and scheduling, right now we can't say when we will start a repair, a certain time. But if a customer's line or service is off, I would anticipate probably at least a day that they should anticipate having to go without water," City of Tulsa Water and Sewer Director Clayton Edwards said.
Tulsa officials are asking residents to conserve water to allow water storage tanks to rise. The city is reporting water line breaks here.
In Oklahoma City, crews are working on 31 water main breaks and more than 400 calls to frozen pipes in private residences. They report repairs are taking longer as ice and snow make the breaks difficult to locate.
OKC officials say the average water demand is 75 million gallons per day, but the current demand is more than double that. Many residents are experiencing low water pressure and water service interruption as a result.
OKC officials are asking residents to not use high-water demand appliciances such as washing machines or dishwashers to alleviate water concerns. The same call has been made by electric companies.
The city of El Reno experienced a citywide water outage on Tuesday due to a rolling blackout by OG&E.
El Reno Mayor Matt White told News 9 that water has been restored but it will need time for water pressure to be fully restored. They are slowly pushing air out of the water system.
The outage took city officials by surprise, with no advanced warning by OG&E. White encouraged residents to monitor water pipes in their house as empty pipes freeze faster than full pipes. Officials encourage residents to know where their water shutoff is in case of an emergency.
Updated February 16 at 2:19 p.m.
Two Oklahoma National Guard soldiers were injured in a crash Monday near Vinita.
A report from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol says their Humvee was struck from behind by the driver of a semi-truck on the Will Rogers Turnpike. The Vinita and Afton Fire Departments used the Jaws of Life to rescue one of the Guardsmen from the wreck.
Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Legler said the soldiers were treated at a hospital in Joplin for non-life-threatening injuries. The Guard was activated Saturday to assist the Highway Patrol in responding to crashes and stranded motorists during winter weather.
"We've got a total of about 90 soldiers out there on the interstate, and we'd really appreciate it if [people] would stay home unless it's absolutely imperative that they go out," said Legler.
In addition to Vinita, the guard has teams assisting OHP in Stroud, Chickasha, Perry, Ardmore, Clinton, Checotah and Woodward. Their mission will last through at least the end of the new winter storm beginning Wednesday afternoon.
Updated February 16 at 10:18 a.m.
In a briefing last night, Governor Kevin Stitt and top energy officials announced Oklahoma was in the clear for rolling blackouts. The next morning, more than 100,000 Oklahomans woke up with no power, as power companies implemented the controlled blackouts to protect energy reserves.
Southwest Power Pool is the corporation that manages our region’s electrical grid. SPP called on the power companies to implement controlled outages early Monday. They went back on that call to fanfare from top Oklahoma officials. Those officials, including Energy and Environment Secretary Ken Wagner and Oklahoma Emergency Management Director Mark Gower, said they had begun preparing for this situation as early as Saturday. At the time, Gov. Stitt was skiing in New Mexico.
Early this morning, SPP, OG&E and other utilities across Oklahoma said residents from Woodward to Glenpool, could have no power for several hours today.
Updated February 16 at 9:42 a.m.
Severe winter weather has worsened Oklahoma’s blood shortage.
"We like to have at least three or four days supply. But right now or we're just kind of on the edge of that one day supply or a little bit less," said Heather Browne, Oklahoma Blood Institute’s Marketing and Media manager.
She says securing supply has been tough throughout the pandemic, and the winter storm has only made it worse. Regular drives, such as those in schools and churches, have had to close, and getting to donor centers can be difficult when roads are bad.
In addition to regular donation sites, OBI has opened emergency centers in the Oklahoma City metro and in Shawnee, which will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can find more information about those at obi.org/emergency or by calling 877-340-8777.
Updated February 15 at 10:45 p.m.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the state’s top emergency management and energy officials briefed the state on its winter storm situation Monday evening and continued their call to conserve energy.
"We still need to conserve energy because we aren't out of the woods yet," said Stitt. "Please consider turning your thermostat down to 68 or cooler and avoid using large appliances like washers and dryers or your dishwasher."
The subzero cold snap damaged natural gas and other energy equipment, while it created unprecedented demand for energy use. Tens of thousands of Oklahomans experienced controlled blackouts. Officials said they expect no more controlled blackouts, but that could change on a dime.
As the winter storm and plunging temperatures put a strain on Oklahoma's power grid and natural gas supply, Cherokee Nation Businesses announced Monday they will be doing their part to assist with the challenges.
CNB will be temporarily suspending operations at all nine of their Cherokee Casino properties, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, retail and cultural sites. All employees scheduled to work at those properties during this time will be paid for their shifts.
Officials say they plan to reopen on Wednesday at 1 p.m., although that is subject to change with another winter storm expected to hit the state on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Roland Travel Plaza on I-40 will remain open.
Updated February 15 at 6:04 p.m.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is reminding Oklahomans about state price gouging laws as winter weather drives up demand for some goods.
When Governor Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency on Friday, the Emergency Price Stabilization Act automatically took effect. As a result, prices of goods can’t be increased more than 10%.
In a statement Monday, Hunter said the statute allows his office to pursue charges against individuals or businesses that engage in price gouging. Violations carry a civil penalty of $10,000 per infraction, and criminal penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and ten years in jail.
Oklahoma’s record drop in temperatures means there’s an increased risk of pipes freezing.
AAA Oklahoma recommends letting warm water drip slightly from faucets and opening cabinet doors under sinks so heat can reach uninsulated pipes. To further decrease the risk of pipes freezing, seal gaps around pipes that let cold air inside and insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces and attic.
AAA Oklahoma recommends using a hair dryer to thaw frozen pipes by warming the section of the pipe closest to the faucet, then moving toward the coldest part of the pipe. If your pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in your home, leave the water faucets on and contact a plumber.
Updated February 15 at 5:55 p.m.
As winter weather continues to pummel the state, tribal police and marshalls say they've been rescuing stranded drivers, transporting doctors, nurses and other essential workers to their jobs and trying to stay warm and safe.
"The roads are snow packed and stopping and starting is...sketchy at best," Muscogee Creek Nation's Lighthorse Police Chief Richard Phillips said about roads in and around Okmulgee. "I heard that people can make it from Okmulgee to Tulsa as long as they take it real slow."
He's been getting calls from motorists who say their work commute is nearly impossible. In the past couple of days, all 64 Lighthorse Police officers have been on duty and responding to numerous calls from stranded motorists throughout McIntosh County and elsewhere.
Officials with the Cherokee Nation are reporting similar conditions, with roads in and around Tahlequah hard to drive on. The tribal nation's health services rescheduled all vaccination appointments for Monday due to hazardous weather.
Updated February 14 at 2:48 p.m.
Due of surges in electrical use amid sub-zero temperatures, thousands of Oklahomans experienced rolling blackouts Monday. It is unclear whether those controlled cut offs will continue, as officials say the situation will remain fluid through Thursday.
Oklahoma and the region surrounding it is experiencing a massive natural gas shortage. That has several causes — all related to the winter storm and subsequent subzero cold snap — wind turbines are freezing, natural gas pipelines bursting and more. Many of the state’s electric plants rely on natural gas, so a gas shortage means an electricity shortage.
Southwest Power Pool, the corporation that manages the region's electrical grid, announced Monday that because of power shortages in their 14-state region. It has instructed power companies to implement controlled blackouts.
The corporation managing the state’s grid and local utility companies implemented controlled outages Monday morning, affecting thousands. The idea being that those blackouts will conserve enough power to prevent uncontrolled outages. But the grid company later announced in a press conference that its supply of natural gas was high enough for the moment to suspend the rolling blackouts, but that the situation could change quickly.
Officials are urging Oklahomans to reduce their power consumption and help stabilize the grid by not using major electric appliances like washers and dryers, reducing your household temperature to 68 degrees and turning off unused lights and appliances.
Officials recommend charging mobile devices, checking flashlight and radio batteries and preparing warm clothes and blankets. If a rolling blackout should occur, officials say to:
- Use flashlights, not candles
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed
- Check on neighbors, family, seniors and those experiencing homelessness
- Only use generators in open areas away from windows and home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
- Dim the light on mobile devices to conserve battery
Record cold temperatures are providing rare sights in the Oklahoma City metro, with the Oklahoma River iced over and outflows from dams frozen in place. The ongoing winter weather will continue to put stress on utility services and lives in danger.
In https://youtu.be/BU_FkRafTw8" target="_blank">a wide ranging press conference Sunday afternoon, Oklahoma City officials warned streets will remain hazardous through the week, with more snowfall expected.
"It is probably best that you try to stay home this week. And it’s not just about today. If you’ve been following the weather at all, there are obviously multiple waves of this coming over the coming days," said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt.
Jarod Shadid with Oklahoma City’s Homeless Services Department said for the homeless population, this cold can be deadly.
"Somebody who’s sleeping outside overnight in this, they very likely may not wake up the next morning," said Shadid.
If you encounter a person outside in the cold with nowhere to go, officials advise calling 911 so they can be taken to a local shelter or warming center.
Animal Welfare Superintendent Jon Gary said pets also need to be brought inside. Those left outside will die if exposed to these bitter cold temperatures for too long.
"The biggest thing I think the public needs to know is they need to bring their animals inside. These temperatures are far too cold, and they are deadly. We had our first death yesterday," said Gary. "Right now we’re receiving about 50 to 60 calls for animal cruelty a day. To put that in perspective, we average about five to six. So we’re receiving ten times the number of animal cruelty calls."
Please make arrangements to bring your animals inside. Even with a dog house, animals are still in danger of freezing to death. Warming shelter locations that allow pets: 301 SW 23rd Street and 6710 N. Classen Blvd. You can surrender your animal at the shelter.— OKC Animal Welfare (@okcpets) February 13, 2021
Gary said he fears more animals will die over the next several days, and asks those with questions to call the OKC Animal Welfare Department at 405-297-3100.
A state of emergency for all 77 counties in Oklahoma was issued by Governor Kevin Stitt ahead of the storm. In a press release on Sunday, Stitt urged Oklahomans to conserve energy where possible due to historic demand levels and asked state agencies not providing essential public-facing services to work from home through Wednesday.
Officials expect road conditions to worsen across the state as blowing snow creates snow drifts and lower visibility.