More than 200,000 without power as 'nightmare' autumn ice storm tears through Oklahoma

Steve Lackmeyer, The Oklahoman
·3 min read

OKLAHOMA CITY – A “worst nightmare” of an autumn ice storm wrecking trees and power lines across the Oklahoma City area left more than 200,000 without power Tuesday.

Tree branches littered streets while others were uprooted altogether.

As the storm hit, 911 was flooded with calls. Police were called to 11 injury crashes Tuesday morning and stopped responding to non-injury crashes.

Brian Alford, spokesman for Oklahoma electric utility OGE, warned some customers may be without power for several days. About 1,300 crews were sent out as power started to go out with the first wave of the ice storm on Monday

A broken tree covers a car in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, after a winter blast covered the state with ice.
A broken tree covers a car in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, after a winter blast covered the state with ice.

“Folks are working 16 hours or more a day,” Alford said. “We try to keep working through the night. We restored over 70,000. But for every step forward, with precipitation continuing to fall, we’re stepping backwards.”

With the second wave, the power outages spread further outside Oklahoma City, to Shawnee and Norman — areas Alford said were spared during the first wave on Monday.

“Fall storms like this are your worst nightmare,” Alford said. “You still have leaves on branches that create a considerable amount of weight. And once you begin to thaw, you see the ice melt and you get the rebound effect of branches bouncing up. So we might make progress and then there will be a setback with the bounding due to the thaw.”

Ice covers tree leaves at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, after a winter blast hit the state.
Ice covers tree leaves at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, after a winter blast hit the state.

The iconic Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial was among those damaged but is expected to survive.

“We lost a pretty good branch,” memorial director Kari Watkins said. “But the tree is still pretty good. We’ve been beating it all morning. The branch that fell we knew was damaged. And it’s so full of leaves that with the ice it becomes too heavy.”

Crews work to knock the ice off the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, after a winter blast covered the state with ice.
Crews work to knock the ice off the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, after a winter blast covered the state with ice.

Crews spent the morning propping up branches and shaking off ice from the Survivor Tree, which along with the Gates of Time is among the most photographed images from Oklahoma City. The tree, an American Elm, was across from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and yet withstood the bomb blast that destroyed the building and resulted in the deaths of 168 people.

“It’s our symbol, it’s our logo, it’s our image nationally,” Watkins said. “It’s the tree that didn’t break and was still thriving 25 years later. And then it took this hit.”

Watkins said the memorial was more fortunate than other areas of downtown Oklahoma City with most of the trees on the block damaged but not destroyed.

Alford said the true extent of the damage to OGE lines won’t be known until the ice storms end and assessors can survey the power grid.

“It’s top five for sure,” Alford said. “It could very likely be the top three. It’s among the largest we’ve seen in the last decade. But if you look back at 1998 and 2007 we’ve had some major ice storms before.”

Power was being restored to customers even as trees continued to collect ice Tuesday. But some customers may be without power through the week.

“It will be a few days for some for sure,” Alford said. “There will be work in backyards and in those types of situations. The tree damage in the yards is unbelievable.”

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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma City ice storm: Mass power outages, downed trees reported