NORMAN, Okla. - A powerful storm began blowing through Oklahoma and the southern Plains on the first day of spring Saturday, bringing heavy snow and strong winds a day after temperatures reached into the 70s.
Forecasters said gusts of up to 40 mph could create drifts of blowing snow and blizzard conditions in what the National Weather Service called "a potentially life-threatening" storm.
Authorities attributed at least three deaths in three states to the weather.
The storm hit as teams were playing or preparing to do so in the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments this weekend in Oklahoma City and Norman. Some fans from Kansas and Kansas State, who played Saturday in the second round of the men's tournament, opted not to make the trip south.
"I'm not going to risk getting myself killed going down I-35," said Kansas State fan John Blankenship of Udall, Kan., who attended the Wildcats' game Thursday and intended to come back on Saturday. Still, he said, "if it was the Final Four, I'd be going."
Much of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and parts of Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas were under a winter storm warning that was to last into Sunday. Travel was being discouraged in central and northern Oklahoma, where authorities said roads were slick and hazardous. Several flights were delayed or canceled at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City because of snow and freezing fog, spokeswoman Karen Carney said.
Authorities reported dozens of wrecks amid heavy snow and high winds, many of them with injuries. Single deaths were reported in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Stacy L. Moore, 26, of Green City, Mo., lost control of her minivan on a slush-covered road south of Unionville in the north-central part of the state and the vehicle overturned, ejecting her, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. Moore died 2 1/2 hours later at a local hospital.
Courtney Smith, 21, of Overland Park, Kan., died when his vehicle hit a tow truck that was trying to free another vehicle stuck in a median in the Kansas City area. Slick road conditions may have caused the accident, Lt. K. Woods of the Kansas Highway Patrol told The Kansas City Star.
In Oklahoma, a 7-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, girl, Cheyanne Rhodes, died when the vehicle she was riding in slid off Interstate 35 south of Guthrie. Distracted by a cell phone call, the driver overcorrected and the vehicle rolled, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.
Forecasters said snow accumulations will average 4 to 8 inches over much of northern, central and eastern Oklahoma, with up to a foot in some areas northeast of Oklahoma City. In Kansas, 6 to 12 inches of snow were possible. Accumulations of 1 to 4 inches were forecast for north-central Kansas.
By late afternoon, snowfall totals ranged from 1 inch to 7 inches across Oklahoma, with the highest accumulations in the north-central part of the state. In Braman, just south of the Kansas state line, 7 inches had fallen, while 6 inches fell in Stillwater.
Georgia Tech women's coach MaChelle Joseph, whose team will take on Arkansas-Little Rock in Norman on Sunday, said the weather reminded her of her home state of Indiana.
"One day it's 70 and the next day we're having a blizzard," she said.
In the men's basketball tournament, Kansas, the overall top seed, fell 69-67 to Northern Iowa, while Kansas State was to play BYU in another second-round game Saturday. In the women's tournament, Oklahoma will host South Dakota State on Sunday.
Only a handful of South Dakota State fans watched their team practice Saturday, although more were expected Sunday despite the weather.
"Our buses are coming down, but they're used to this stuff," said Linda Nelson of Rapid City, S.D., a fan who arrived in Norman on Friday.
Remington Park, which annually hosts one of the top quarter horse racing meets in the nation, canceled its Saturday card. The Grade 2 Oklahoma Futurity was rescheduled for March 27.
The storm is the third major winter storm to hit Oklahoma in the last three months, including a Christmas Eve blizzard that stranded holiday travelers at airports and on snow-packed highways.
Forecasters, though, said that this time temperatures should rebound into the 60s as soon as Monday.
"This will be kind of short-lived," said National Weather Service meteorologist John Pike in Norman. "Tomorrow it will be moving out and we'll start a warming trend after that."