The “Blizzard of 2009” will be long remembered by people in Oklahoma. The storm was one of the most intense on record with regard to its combination of snow, wind and low pressure. There have been many other blizzards in the state that have had larger snowfall amounts… but the wind associated with this storm made it particularly noteworthy. Also… the area of the state affected by the storm doesn’t typically see blizzards. They are usually confined to the Panhandle and northwest part of Oklahoma.
The strength of this system was well forecast by models… which indicated a strong upper storm and surface cyclone would intensify and spread out into the Plains in the days leading up to Christmas. This solution was evident in model data upward of a week in advance. However… it appeared that it would take a more typical trip through the Panhandle and into the central Plains. Travel would be a great concern for folks leaving Oklahoma to the north and west.
As the system approached… model guidance began to suggest a farther south track which would bring the most significant impacts into the main body of the state. As time went by… those severe impacts looked like they would be getting closer and closer to central Oklahoma and the OKC metro area. Also in the process of shifting the impact southeastward….data suggested that the storm would produce very significant amounts of snowfall and wicked amounts of wind as extreme surface low pressure became organized over the southeast part of the state.
24 hours before the event started…. it appeared that the stage was set and Oklahoma needed to brace for what could be a record setting event. Anyone wishing for a White Christmas may want to watch what they wish for. It was on its way and it meant business.
Initially, the storm was strong enough to drag warm air aloft back into the center part of the state which caused a large area of freezing rain and sleet to occur in the early hours of the event. On average, about 1/3 of the melt down precipitation was in rain and sleet form. Then the changeover occurred. As enough cold air worked its way into the core of the system… snowfall began falling over a broad area from southeast to central to northeast Oklahoma and persisted for many hours. This was made troublesome by the fact that it was impacting the largest population of the state during the final shopping day before Christmas. Despite forecasts of a winter storm – one that was upgraded by the National Weather Service around Noon on Christmas Eve – to a Blizzard Warning – many people braved the roads. This turned out to be a major mistake with travel being brought to a standstill in almost all areas. Huge areas of interstates were shut down and rescue operations were set in motion to gather up stranded drivers. It was a worst case scenario. A few people even lost their lives.
Forecasting the system was difficult…. with a steady trend by data to shift the emphasis south. While some people in the northwest had many days of warning… others in the eastern part of the state only saw 12 to 24 hours of notice that a major winter storm would be heading their way. Also… it wasn’t until about 6 hours into the event that it became realized that portions of south central, central and northeast Oklahoma would see the amounts of snow that they did.
Then there was the wind. The wind blew all day….gradually increasing from 35 and 40 mph to 50 to over 60 mph at many locations. It reached a point where it was hard to stand up in and created drifts in the OKC metro area that had not been seen by many before. It may very well be a long time before they are seen again.
With regard to the 14.1 inches of snowfall reported at Will Rogers Airport…. I am inclined to politely say, no. I think this total was about five inches overdone. I love seeing records being broken…. but not when they are incorrect. My drives around the city during the days afterward have not shown me anything that indicates more than seven or eight inches of snow fell in most areas. Then the meltdown of 0.94 came in from KOKC and I was sure that 14.1 inches of snow did not fall – probably more on the side of 6 to 8 inches at best when considered that 25% of the 0.94 came in the form of freezing rain and sleet at the beginning of the event. It is a record that I would like the National Weather Service to examine a little further before setting in stone.
In Okarche… we stayed just west of the heaviest snow and recorded 2.9 inches. Drifts of over two feet were common around town and at the peak of the storm it really looked like a blizzard. White out conditions reduced visibilities to less than 100 feet at times.
Satellite picture after the event:
Max wind gusts from the Oklahoma Mesonet – Will Rogers Airport also exceeded 60 mph…
Max wind gusts:
Snowfall from the Tulsa National Weather Service:
Snowfall from the Norman National Weather Service:
My “best guess snowfall amounts” and the snowcast showing the greatest amounts forecast for each county. The eastern side was handled fairly well – however, with little advance warning. The northwest and panhandle were an indication of the storm track farther south than expected in the early forecasts. Overall… the heavy snow centers were forecast to have decent amounts of snow…. but probably not near what my forecast indicated: