A winter storm warning was issued for central and southern Oklahoma counties for Wednesday into Thursday, with ice and freezing rain in the forecast.
Meteorologists expected a mix of freezing rain and sleet to pass through north Texas early Wednesday and begin spreading over southern and central Oklahoma, impacting the morning commute.
Wayne Ruff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, said the winter weather will hit central Oklahoma as two separate events spread over as many days.
How much ice and snow will Oklahoma get?
“The first, and maybe more significant one, is Wednesday morning, around 6 a.m. to noon, where we expect to have sleet and heavy ice for the Oklahoma City area,” Ruff said. “The second one may be lighter precipitation but still mostly be sleet, and that would be early Thursday morning, starting around 2 a.m. and ending by 10 a.m.”
Ruff said a light chance of snow was also possible Thursday afternoon, but residents shouldn’t expect much.
Wind chills for the Oklahoma City metro area are expected to hit 5 below zero, with wind gusts reaching as high as 25 mph Wednesday afternoon.
“Less than a half-inch of snow for Oklahoma in general, if that,” Ruff said. “But a half-inch of sleet is significantly more, because there’s more water in that, and when you have that mixed with freezing rain and freezing temperatures, that’s when you see traction problems with driving and walking.”
The Oklahoma City metro area isn’t expected to warm up above freezing until Friday.
More: What are Oklahoma City’s snow routes? How to prepare ahead of the storm
Public utilities, residents prepare for impacted travel, power outages
In preparation for the forecast weather, Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., the state’s major public utility, announced Tuesday it would be mobilizing crews and supplies.
“We are staging more than 3,000 OG&E restoration and storm support personnel across the service area by (Wednesday) evening and are prepared to respond as quickly and safely as possible,” the company said in a news release.
But the company also urged residents in its service area to stay weather-aware and prepared.
“Customers with life-sustaining and life-saving equipment at home should make plans now for severe cold weather.”
Ruff agreed, recommending residents fill the fuel tanks in their vehicles and monitor the travel conditions in their areas.
“Be serious about the cold,” Ruff said. “A lot of people just think driving to the store or driving to work, running in and running out, that they’re only outside for two minutes or something. But if you get stranded, especially with a car accident, you’re going to be outside much, much longer than you expected to be.”
Forecasters also advised residents wear layered clothing, gloves, scarves and hats to keep as little of their skin exposed to the wind chill as possible.
“Staying home is the easiest thing to do, but if you do have to get out unexpectedly, if you don’t have the footwear and the extra warm clothes, you won’t be able to stay out there for however long you might need, before the sub-zero-degree wind chill starts getting to you,” Ruff said.
More: Winter fires in Oklahoma City prompt safety reminders, tips
Schools close, shift to online classes
Several school districts announced they would shift to virtual learning on Wednesday, including Oklahoma City, Edmond, Mid-Del, Moore, Mustang, Norman, Shawnee and Yukon.
The University of Oklahoma said it also would shift to remote classes Wednesday, while The University of Central Oklahoma announced it would cancel activities entirely.
Each school said it would continue to monitor weather conditions and keep students apprised of plans for the rest of the week.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Winter storm warning for central, southern OK prompts schools to close