Freezing rain blamed for 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma

02/04/2014 10:02 AM

02/04/2014 10:02 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Snow and freezing rain made for perilous driving conditions on Christmas Day in Oklahoma, where 21 cars piled up in Oklahoma City before the massive winter storm spread east into Arkansas.

Blizzard warnings were issued in southwest Oklahoma and northeast Arkansas, where forecasters said strong winds could create blowing snow conditions that are rarely seen in Arkansas.

"Highway travel is strongly discouraged," the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said in a news release.

The pileup in Oklahoma City began about 3 a.m. when a semitrailer jackknifed on Interstate 40 on a bridge over the Oklahoma River, state Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said. Other vehicles hit the semi and other semis slid into the vehicles, sandwiching them, she said.

In all, there were 10 separate crashes involving 21 vehicles and three tractor-trailers. Several people were injured.

"Some of them, it took the entire top of the car off, like they slid under a semi," Randolph said.

Officials were able to reopen I-40 after about five hours, but roads in numerous areas of Oklahoma were slick with ice, according to the highway department.

Also Tuesday, crews treated bridges on Interstate 35 south of Oklahoma City, and icy conditions made driving difficult near Tulsa. In western Oklahoma, officials reported slick and hazardous conditions on I-40 in Beckham, Washita and Custer counties due to sleet and blowing snow.

Officials cautioned as temperatures fell during the day, roads that had been wet were likely to freeze.

In Arkansas, up to 10 inches of snow was forecast through Wednesday in the northeast part of the state, which was under a blizzard warning. In Little Rock and much of central and northern Arkansas, 3 to 6 inches of snow was forecast, with higher amounts in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.

Road conditions were holding up Tuesday afternoon in most of Arkansas, but National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Goudsward in the North Little Rock office said that wouldn't last.

"Later today and tonight when the snow kicks up, we would expect the conditions to deteriorate," he said.

In western Arkansas, between Fort Smith and De Queen, highway officials reported ice and snow on roads, including the major north-south route of U.S. Highway 71. And in parts of central Arkansas, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled as freezing rain fell and stuck to trees.

In Oklahoma, all of Interstate 40, which bisects the state from east to west, was slick because rain was freezing as soon as it hit the pavement, Randolph said.

After the Oklahoma Highway Patrol shut down I-40 near its junction with I-35, troopers diverted traffic while the debris could be cleared. Interstate 40 also was closed for a time near Clinton in western Oklahoma because of overturned vehicles, as well as the eastbound lanes about 10 miles east of Shawnee because of a jackknifed tractor-trailer.

Traffic was light because most people had already reached their holiday destinations, "but the ones that are out there are having trouble staying on the road," she said.

"We're really discouraging travel," she added. "If you don't have to get out, don't."

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