- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Strong thunderstorms pelted much of the Southern Plains with freezing rain and sleet on Sunday, slickening highways and prompting school closings across Arkansas and Oklahoma.

At least three people died in traffic accidents in the region’s latest round of winter weather.

Forecasters posted an ice storm warning for a narrow band of the Ouachita Mountains, but heavy sleet spread the misery from western Oklahoma to the Mississippi River.

Freezing rain weighed down trees and power lines with up to a quarter-inch of ice, and sleet continued to hit the region after sunset, making roads treacherous. More than 100 collisions were reported in the Oklahoma City area alone, and highway officials were urging motorists to stay off the roads.

“We’ve been running like crazy around here,” said Lt. Brian Orr, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. “We didn’t work all of them, but we have responded to them.”

With temperatures expected to drop into the teens overnight, road conditions weren’t expected to improve. Schools from southwestern Oklahoma to northeastern Arkansas called off classes Monday as a precaution.

The slick roads were being blamed for the death of a pedestrian in Chickasha, Okla., who was struck by a car on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike late Saturday, and a two-vehicle accident Sunday that killed a student and critically injured four other people in El Reno, Okla., according to state police and school officials.

Arkansas State Police said one person was killed after an SUV rolled off Interstate 540 near Rogers and fell into a creek after heavy sleet passed through the area.

In Oklahoma City, many flights were canceled or delayed at Will Rogers World Airport. Seven departures were canceled Sunday because planes couldn’t make it in Saturday night, airport spokeswoman Karen Carney said.

Carla Vaught, who lives about 5 miles outside Mena in western Arkansas, which had some of the worst icing, said she could hear the trees straining under the weight of the ice while she was outside to potty-train her 6-week-old Corgi, Tucker. She said she was watching out for what she called “widowmakers,” previously snapped tree limbs that hadn’t fallen to the ground yet.

“All of the cedars are pulled over, but we haven’t had any breaking yet,” Vaught said. “All of the weaker limbs went in the last storm. I look up and wonder if anything is going to fall.”

The puppy, meanwhile, “seems to not mind at all.”

The weather also forced organizers of the Little Rock Marathon to route some runners off the course prematurely. Runners who were still on the course’s first 13 miles were diverted back to the finish line so they could wrap up before thunderstorms hit. Others farther out were told they could board a bus along the route and return to the finish line.

The slow-moving cold front made for interesting temperature contrasts. In Oklahoma, Sunday’s high temperatures ranged from 9 in the Panhandle to 65 in the southeastern corner of the state. In Arkansas, forecasters tweeted at midday that temperatures ranged from 12 at Siloam Springs and Rogers to 74 at Eudora, near the Louisiana and Mississippi border.


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