2nd blizzard in less than week slams Plains region
By BETSY BLANEY
The Associated Press | February 26,2013
Amarillo emergency personnel assists a stranded motorist on the Interstate 40 service road Monday.
LUBBOCK, Texas — Blizzard conditions again descended on the midsection of the country Monday, forcing the closure of highways in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and putting already snow-covered parts of Kansas on high alert as the day progresses.
National Weather Service officials issued blizzard warnings and watches in Kansas and Oklahoma through late Monday as the storm tracks north and east across West Texas toward Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.
A strong low pressure system is feeding the wintry beast, Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said.
“The more intense the low, the stronger the storm as far as pulling air in,” he said. “That’s what gives us the high winds.”
But because not all of the region’s temperatures were below freezing, heavy rain and thunderstorms pelted eastern Arkansas and Texas, as well as western Arkansas and Louisiana.
“March is the time we see intense winter storms in the Plains,” Carbin said. He added the storm’s path will take it through the upper Midwest, including Chicago and Detroit, before pushing eastward.
The system had already passed through Colorado, where flights were canceled, Denver city offices had delayed openings and snow was piled as much as two-feet deep.
In a drought-stricken region thirsting for moisture, the storm could help replenish the groundwater. Climatologists say 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.
“Is it a drought buster? Absolutely not,” Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas, said. “Will it bring short-term improvement? Yes.”
In the Texas Panhandle, wind gusts up to 65 mph and heavy snow had made all roads impassable and created whiteout conditions, Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said. Airports are also closed, and state troopers are unable to respond to calls for assistance.
“It’s just a good day to stay home,” Braun said. “This is one of the worst ones we’ve had for a while.”
Texas rancher Jay O’Brien warned the storm could be deadly for grazing cattle, including some calves born in recent days. The wind will push animals into in a fenced corner where they could suffocate from the moisture.
“This type of snow is a cattle killer,” he said, noting that feedlot cattle can lose up to 40 pounds in a storm of this severity. The size of the nation’s cattle herd is already at its lowest since 1952.
Amarillo could set a record for daily snowfall, Murphy said, as the city had received about 16 inches by noon Monday and is forecast for up to 18 inches. The daily record is 18.1 inches set in 1934.
Oklahoma also was under a blizzard warning, where officials warned that travel would be especially dangerous through Tuesday morning in the Panhandle and counties along the Kansas border. Forecasters said up to 16 inches of snow could accumulate in some areas, with wind gusts reaching up to 55 mph.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed all highways in the state’s Panhandle, citing slick roads and limited visibility. Trooper Betsy Randolph said the patrol advised its non-essential personnel to stay home until Wednesday. About a dozen flights were canceled at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
Kansas is in the storm’s path as well, even though Wichita residents had barely recovered from last week’s storm that dumped up to 18 inches of snow. Forecasts show some parts of Kansas could receive another 8 to 24 inches of new snow.
Stephanie Happy, a stay-at-home mom, was putting bananas and salad fixings into her grocery cart Monday as the first flakes of snow began to fall in Belle Plaine, about 30 miles south of Wichita.
Her two children, ages 16 and 14, were both home from school since classes were cancelled.
“It can be fun,” she said.
Tuesday is primary day in two south-central Kansas counties, and the storm has led officials to consolidate all polling places in one in each county.
Terry Rugkin, a social services supervisor, was collecting his mail from the post office in Belle Plaine early Monday just as the first flakes of snow fell. Rugkin’s office in Winfield was closed, but his wife still had to go to work at a same-day surgery center in Wichita.
They booked her into a motel for two nights.
“We decided it was better to send her up there,” Rugkin said.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Jill Zeman Bleed and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., Dan Holtmeyer in Oklahoma City, Steve Paulson in Denver and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kan., contributed to this report.