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Weather and Climate

Flooding Death Toll Up To Three, Historic Water Levels On Washita, Red Rivers

Updated 1:54 p.m.: The National Weather Service says the Washita River in western and southern Oklahoma, and the Red River along the Texas border, experienced record flooding overnight. It's likely to continue through the weekend.

At 2:30 a.m., the Red River at Gainesville, Texas set a new record by reaching 40.16 feet, beating a 28-year-old record. It passed 41 feet by 5:30 a.m., and was expected to crest Friday afternoon. The major flood stage conditions will likely continue through Sunday morning.

The Washita River also broke its 1987 record by more than three feet, hitting 48.70 feet and cresting at 4:30 a.m. Flood conditions will also continue through Sunday. As Tropical Depression Bill moved through Oklahoma Wednesday and Thursday, it dumped more than 10 inches of rain in some parts of the state in just a few hours. Soils are still saturated after record rainfall throughout the month of May.

The flooding has been blamed for three deaths.

A two-year-old boy was carried from his father's arms by rushing water in Hickory Creek near Ardmore. An 80-year-old woman died near Tecumseh when she drove around barricades blocking a flooded roadway and water swept away her truck. A man in Ardmore also died when water overtook his truck after he'd driven to check on his mother.

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Credit Norman Forecast Office / National Weather Service
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National Weather Service

Interstate 35 is still open at the Red River, but travel on the highway in southern Oklahoma is discouraged as transportation workers continue working to prevent more rock slides near Turner Falls.

Updated 8:28 a.m.: A second death has been confirmed in Carter County after Southern Oklahoma was hit hard by rain caused by remnants of Tropical Storm Bill Wednesday night and early Thursday.

That brings the total death toll in Oklahoma from the tropical depression to three.

Carter County Sheriff Milton Anthony told The Daily Ardmoreite Criner Hills volunteer firefighters found the body of John Harrison near the Rock Crossing Bridge near Hickory Creek. He had gone to the Ardmore  to check on his mother.

While returning to his home in Overbrook, his Toyota pick-up was swept away in a current that rose over the bridge and through a neighboring wheat field. “We got a call at 3:01 p.m. [Thursday] regarding a deceased person,” Anthony said. “The body of Mr. Harrison was found about 100 yards south of the bridge, 50 yards from his truck.” Anthony said the truck was in first gear, which indicated he was trying to get through the current and the top of the truck was smashed. Anthony said Harrison appeared to be trying to hold on to something when his body was found.

Updated June 19, 6:57 a.m.: Flooding caused by heavy rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill has claimed a second life.

An 80-year-old woman was found in her partially-submerged truck yesterday afternoon just southeast of Tecumseh near the Little River.

Pottawatomie County Undersheriff Travis Palmer told the Shawnee News-Star it appeared the woman ignored barricades and tried to drive through floodwaters that rose as the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill dropped up to 10 inches of rain on parts of the state:

Tecumseh firefighters and Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s deputies first responded to that scene about 4:30 p.m. At first, Palmer said they weren’t sure if anyone was inside that pickup and called for Shawnee’s boat to assist with the search. Shawnee firefighters discovered the woman inside the vehicle and recovered her body, Palmer said. The state medical examiner will determine an exact cause of death. Palmer said they believe the woman was trying to drive into town when her pickup was swept off the roadway. Residents in that area can avoid the flooded areas by driving a mile or two around, he said. Palmer said floodwater in that area on Thursday was much worse than flooding in the same area a month ago.

Further north, more than 5,000 campers at Falls Creek are being sent home early as the nearby Washita River reaches historic levels.

Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Director Anthony Jordan said the camp was not directly at risk of flooding, but camp officials are concerned about their ability to provide general maintenance and trash service because of flooding in nearby areas.

In Carter County, rancher Elvin Sweeten says his family's entire 600-acre ranch is underwater. He says floodwater from the Washita River is creeping toward his son's home on the property and that they can escape by boat if necessary. The two men have been cutting fences to allow cows and horses to escape to higher ground.

Updated 5:27 p.m.: Interstate 35 has reopened in both directions between Ardmore and Springer after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Bill forced the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to shut down the stretch between mile markers 33 and 40 for several hours Thursday.

I-35 northbound traffic in the Arbuckle Mountains is still being detoured to U.S. Highway 77 at mile marker 47 after a rock slide in Murray County. Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers and workers are trying to stablize the rock face to keep it from getting worse. The northbound lanes will likely stay closed for several days.

 

Even though waters have receded across much of the interstate system, delays are still expected, especially as many state and county roadways and other alternate routes remain flooded or washed out.

 

Communities in southern Oklahoma are drying out. The city of Ardmore received nearly ten inches of rain Wednesday night, flooding homes, businesses, city hall and a fire station. Floodwaters have now retreated within the city.

 

A two-year old boy was carried away by the floodwaters Wednesday night in Ardmore. His body was found Thursday afternoon, about 150 feet from his home. 

 
Ardmore emergency management director Amber Wilson said the massive rainfall made streets in the southern Oklahoma town look like rivers.

 

"I've never seen this much rain in the city of Ardmore before," Wilson said. "It's just insane."

 

At this point, Wilson doesn't know how long it will take for the city to recover from the most recent flooding.

 

"It's going to take us quite a bit of time," Wilson said. "We had damage before this last month. This is just going to add to it. So I'm sure it's going to take us a while."

 

 

Interactive map of highway closures across the state

Updated 11:12 a.m.: The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has shut down Interstate 35 entirely from Ardmore to Davis as crews continue to respond to flooding and high water north of Ardmore, and the rock slide around the Davis and Turner Falls area. There's no timetable for the road's reopening.

OHP Captain Paul Timmons says traffic is being diverted to U.S. Highway 177, but heavy congestion is likely in that area because the Caddo Creek Bridge is down to one lane. Transportation officials are advising anyone needing to travel between Oklahoma City and Dallas to avoid I-35 entirely, and take either U.S. Highway 69/75 through Durant, or Interstate 44 through Lawton and Wichita Falls.

Updated 7:01 a.m.: The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has shut down both directions of Interstate 35 just north of Ardmore due to flooding. A seven-mile stretch of the highway is closed from Exits 33 through 40. Southbound traffic is being diverted off at State Highway 53, and northbound drivers are being asked to use U.S. Highway 177.

Further north, northbound lanes are still closed near mile marker 51 after a rock slide in the Arbuckle Mountains. A large boulder struck a vehicle, causing injuries.

Updated June 18, 6:45 a.m.: The remnants of Tropical Storm Bill continue to move through Oklahoma Thursday morning after dropping more than a foot of rain in the southern portion of the state since Wednesday.

The floodwaters washed away a toddler, and caused a rock slide that shut down Interstate 35 for several hours Thursday morning.

The Ardmore Police Department and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol are resuming the search and recovery for a two-year-old washed away by floodwaters.

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Credit Norman Forecast Office / National Weather Service
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National Weather Service

State troopers assisted with the search on Hickory Creek after Ardmore Police requested their help before calling it off at around 10:30 Wednesday evening.

Ardmore Assistant Chief Kevin Norris said a relative of the child was at the creek and trying to leave when the child ran away and was swept away by high water.

More than a foot of rain has fallen in that part of the state since the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill arrived in Oklahoma.

The northbound lanes of Interstate 35 are shut down around the Turner Falls area in Murray County after a large boulder fell from the side of the Arbuckle Mountains, and there's still a threat of smaller rocks falling.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says that large boulder struck a vehicle and injured passengers. That backup extends for several miles. Heavy flooding and high water also overtook a bus from the Milfay First Baptist Church near the Falls Creek camp in the area on Wednesday.

Norman Forecast Office meteorologist VivekMahale says the National Weather Service is keeping Flash Flood Watches in place throughout much of central and eastern Oklahoma.

“The system is going to continue lifting to the northeast and into Arkansas and Missouri, and it should be completely out of the state by early tomorrow morning,” Mahale said.

There's no threat of any severe weather with this system, just massive amounts of rain.

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Credit Norman Forecast Office / National Weather Service
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National Weather Service

Updated 12:02 p.m.: National Weather Service meteorologists say the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill are taking their time getting to the metro, having moved about 70 miles over the past six hours. But that means there's a growing concern about serious flooding for areas along and southeast of Interstate 44.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday very heavy rain had spread into southern Oklahoma as the storm’s center moves over Fort Worth. The flash flood threat will increase from Durant toward Sulphur and Marietta through the afternoon.

There’s very little threat of tornadoes, but they can’t be ruled out completely. Norman forecasters says they’d most likely occur south and east of I-44 late Wednesday afternoon and into the evening. But, due to the heavy rainfall, tornadoes could be almost impossible to see, and difficult to detect on radar.

Anywhere from two to four inches of rain are forecast for the Oklahoma City area, with up to nine inches possible near Durant in southeastern Oklahoma.

NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith said the flooding threat could peak beginning Wednesday evening and persist through Thursday morning.

“It’s conceivable that the Oklahoma City metro could see some of our worst impacts during the Thursday morning rush hour,” Smith said. 

Updated June 17, 7:31 a.m.: Bill arrives in Oklahoma

Heavy rainfall caused by the tropical depression left behind as Tropical Storm Bill dissipates over Texas will start to make its way into Oklahoma on Wednesday, bringing a significant flooding threat.

Rain will continue into the evening and overnight hours, and two to four inches are possible in central Oklahoma. 
 

"We’re still saturated in a lot of places from the rains we saw back in May," said National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith. "That’s going to set the stage for potentially for flooding, potentially some dangerous flooding in spots.”
 
 

Southeastern Oklahoma could see as much as 6 to 9 inches of rain near Durant. Smith advising people to avoid travel if possible on Wednesday night and Thursday if they are in areas that will be affected by the rain.
 

 

“The biggest hazard in flooding is typically to those walking or driving in water, and some of these thunderstorms may be able to produce excessive amounts of rain in a really short period of time," Smith said. "Sometimes you can’t even tell how fast the water is rising.”
 

The Weather Service says once heavy rain begins, it will likely last several hours. It's expected to arrive in the Ada area between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and hit the Oklahoma City area between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 7 a.m. Thursday.
 

Rain bands with the remnants of Bill will move northward today, but the heaviest rain will generally move in from the late morning through the afternoon and evening hours.
Credit Norman Forecast Office / National Weather Service
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National Weather Service
Rain bands with the remnants of Bill will move northward today, but the heaviest rain will generally move in from the late morning through the afternoon and evening hours.

Original Post

Less than a month after severe flooding killed dozens of people in Oklahoma and Texas, meteorologists at the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office and the National Hurricane Center in Miami say more heavy rainfall could affect eastern Oklahoma and north Texas as remnants of Tropical Storm Bill move north and makes landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast.

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Credit Norman Forecast Office / National Weather Service
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National Weather Service

"The big story with Bill is going to be the heavy rainfall," National Hurricane Center meteorologist Robbie Berg told NPR's Newscast unit. "We think that 4-8 inches of rain could occur over eastern Texas and eastern Oklahoma. Maximum amounts could reach 12 inches."

Berg said even though Bill will weaken as it moves over central Texas, the flooding and rainfall threat won't decrease.

"Winds will decrease because it loses its energy source, but it will produce a lot of rain even if it does weaken," Berg said.

Forecasters in Norman say deadly river and flash flooding could occur with prolonged heavy rainfall through Thursday, especially east of Interstate 35. A Flash Flood Watch is in effect through 7 p.m. Thursday.

National and regional airlines are concerned the storm could impact travel in Oklahoma and central Texas.

But there's relief in sight - a warmer a drier weather pattern will likely take shape late this week and heading into the weekend.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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