Oklahoma Ice Storms Leave Thousands Without Power on Eve of Early Voting

Hundreds of thousands in Oklahoma are still without power on Wednesday after powerful ice storms downed electrical lines across the state on Monday, creating hazardous conditions the day before in-person early voting is set to begin in the state.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, some 373,000 households and businesses across the state were still without power on Wednesday, affecting an estimated 300,000 people in Oklahoma City alone.

David Holt, mayor of Oklahoma City, said he hoped warmer weather expected by Friday would help melt the ice that had brought down power lines and felled trees across roads throughout the city.

“When you don’t have power it’s one thing, but when it’s cold, it’s dangerous,” he said on Wednesday. “There’s a chance that some won’t have power through the weekend, but at least they’ll be warm.”

Noting that perhaps half of Oklahoma City’s 650,000 residents were still without power on Wednesday, Mr. Holt said he had opened a warming center in the city’s convention center for daytime use and was evaluating options for keeping it open overnight if needed.

The city has one location for early voting — the Oklahoma County Election Board near the State Capitol — and as of Wednesday morning, it had power and was expected to open to voters on Thursday, Mr. Holt said.

Although ice storms of this kind are not uncommon during Oklahoma winters, having one this strong so early in the fall is unusual.

“This storm had a significant impact because our trees had not yet shed their fall foliage, so the ice had much more surface area to fall upon,” said Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company, which provides electricity to Oklahoma City. “We’re afraid we might see wind gusts tomorrow that could cause more damage, but it’s at least now above freezing.”

Mr. Alford said that although the utility had restored power to 100,000 households and businesses thus far, 260,000 were still without electricity. More than 2,000 employees and contractors were working to restore services, he added.

The Oklahoma State Election Board said that a lack of electricity would not keep Oklahomans from voting.

“Oklahoma has a paper-ballot-based system, which ensures that voting in Oklahoma will go on regardless of whether or not we have power,” said Misha Mohr, a board spokeswoman.

The warming temperatures can bring problems of their own. When the weight of the ice is removed from already stressed tree limbs, more are expected to break and bring down power lines.

Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Department of Emergency Management, said that further losses were likely as the weather warms back up.

“Our electric providers are trying so hard to get power back,” Ms. Cain said. “But Mother Nature is just working against them.”

source: nytimes.com