Winter storm expected to bring crippling ice across central US

A storm system that brought heavy snow and rainfall to California is expected to create dangerous traveling conditions across the southern Plains this weekend, with crippling ice accumulations and heavy rain, according to forecasters.

The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning Thursday for northwestern Oklahoma, much of Kansas and Missouri, and parts of Illinois.

Forecasters said the potential for a significant ice storm is increasing and the entire region could see up to 1 inch of ice, with additional storms expected to impact the area Saturday and Sunday.

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"We could see some fairly significant ice accumulations," Kevin Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma told the Associated Press. "Enough ice accumulations to cause a lot of problems with trees and power lines and power interruptions."

In Oklahoma City, crews spent much of the day pre-treating bridges and overpasses, Fox 25 reported.

Oklahoma City said that up to 34 salt and plow trucks are available to treat and clear snow routes, and that crews will work in 12-hour shifts until the storms are over.

Residents have been snatching up flashlights, batteries and alternative energy sources in anticipation of power disruptions.

"They're grabbing generators, and I'm sold out," said Raymond Bopp, assistant manager of the Woodward Ace Hardware store in Woodward, Oklahoma, about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

The last time the area experienced a significant ice storm was in 2001, when electrical power was interrupted for three or four days, Bopp said.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties due to the predicted severe winter weather.

"Emergency personnel are coordinating with state and local officials to ensure we are prepared and ready for whatever comes our way," she said in a news release.

In Kansas, up to 1 inch of ice was expected to fall in "multiple rounds" of freezing rain between Friday and early Monday in parts of the state.

Further east in Missouri, officials in Kansas City, Mo. are urging patience and asking people to avoid travel.

Troy Schulte, city manager for Kansas City, told Fox 4 this weekend is a big one for the city with Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Pittsburgh Steelers division playoff game.

“The pavement temperature determines whether there’s going to be ice," he told FOX 4. "It won’t solve the issue with limbs coming down on the power lines which is the big public safety issue but allows us hopefully to keep the roads passable both for emergency services equipment and that we’re hosting 80,000 people on Sunday."

Concern about the storm prompted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to activate the state Emergency Operations Center.

"Everyone should be aware that this potential weather event could disrupt travel and cause power outages across the state," Greitens said in a statement.

In the St. Louis area, hospitals are preparing for the ice storm with crews bringing out cots so nurses can stay overnight, FOX 2 reported.

Helen Sandkuhl, Director of Disaster Services at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, said the hospital system is prepared to take care of patients, families and staff no matter how bad the weather becomes.

"You worry about all the sick people at home that have medical equipment now they don’t have power so they’re going to be coming to the emergency department," Sandkuhl told FOX 2.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said that abandoned vehicles on highways and interstates will be towed as they are impeding the flow of traffic, and drivers should retrieve their vehicles off road shoulders as soon as possible.

“As soon as this begins to hit … we are going to start towing vehicles that are on the shoulders,” said Cpl. Justin Wheatley with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

In California, the storm brought heavy snowfall in higher elevations and led thousands of people to evacuate as rivers surged. Forecasters say the Pacific Ocean moisture that helped feed the storm has shifted south, and created the potential for ice and heavy rainfall in southern Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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