- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma’s unseasonably mild winter weather will end abruptly over the holiday weekend as a strong storm system is forecast to bring a mix of snow and possibly record-breaking heavy rain.

With high temperatures in the 60s on Friday, Oklahoma residents won’t have a white Christmas, but several inches of snow could blanket the far western Panhandle and parts of western and central Oklahoma by Sunday. To the east, between 5 and 9 inches of rain is forecast in southern and eastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas through Monday.

“We’re going to break records,” Pete Snyder, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, said Thursday. “The whole eastern part of the state really is going to see a lot of rain.”

Forecasters have issued a flash flood watch beginning Friday night for areas of southern and eastern Oklahoma as well as northwestern Arkansas. Flash flooding, including significant river flooding, is expected in the region Saturday and Sunday due to widespread heavy rain, according to a National Weather Service advisory.

Such heavy precipitation is unusual, with Norman-based weather service meteorologist Matthew Day saying, “This time of year usually is not a peak time for heavy rain,”

But it’s not uncommon during the Pacific Ocean-warming phenomenon known as El Nino, which was partly responsible for record-breaking rainfall in much of Oklahoma this spring.

“We can expect this kind of thing during El Nino winters,” Snyder said. “A strong El Nino this year.”

Colder air behind the front will create conditions for a potentially dangerous winter storm Saturday night through Monday night, and the weather service issued a winter storm watch for that timespan. Forecasters said between 4 and 10 inches of snow and sleet, as well as some ice, are possible across central and western Oklahoma, and strong northerly winds could cause whiteout conditions in western Oklahoma.

The ominous rainfall forecast for eastern Oklahoma prompted the administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission to issue an email Wednesday night warning of “a very significant probability that major flooding will occur in the Illinois River Basin this weekend.”

“There’s a lot of people who have their guard down this weekend. I would like for them to be prepared,” Administrator Ed Fite told The Associated Press. “I don’t want them to all of a sudden find themselves in trouble.”

Fite said the region has experienced an unusually wet autumn and water is still standing along some river banks due to heavy rainfall two weeks ago. Fite’s email urged people with homes, farms or businesses in the northwestern Oklahoma watershed to secure livestock and equipment.

“I hope I have to eat my words on Monday,” he said.

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