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Record cold a threat as some schools and offices reopen

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, at 10:12 a.m.

Life in the Sunflower State will take a giant step back toward normal today, as most schools outside Wichita and the Kansas Legislature reconvene and streets and highways shrug off their cloak of snow.

The Wichita district canceled classes again late Wednesday, citing the low wind chills expected this morning and the poor condition of many side streets.

As much as 18 inches of snow fell in the southeast corner of Kansas on Tuesday, and the storm claimed its second victim early Wednesday when a train hit a car stuck in snow on railroad tracks in Wichita, killing a 50-year-old woman.

Today still will be a challenge for any outdoor activity because of harsh wind chills. Parts of the state — including Wichita — were poised for record low temperatures for Feb. 3. The record low for Wichita is minus 7, set in 1989.

"It's going to be close," said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

The National Weather Service projected overnight and early-morning lows of about minus 10 degrees in many parts of the state, including the capital, with wind chills dipping to below minus 20.

That is cold enough to freeze and crack uninsulated pipes and cause frostbite for people who are outside too long, said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

He said that could be of particular concern if motorists get stranded by the remaining snow and ice in rural areas.

Eye of storm was east

For the second time in two weeks, Wichita managed to miss the brunt of a strong winter storm.

Five inches fell at Mid-Continent Airport — pretty much what forecasters predicted — but it could easily have been much more if the center of the low-pressure system had shifted just 50 miles or so north, said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service.

"Wichita was very fortunate in the way that the low pressure center moved across Oklahoma and along I-44," Hayes said.

A small shelf of warm air settled over the metropolitan area just before the storm struck, sparing Wichita from heavier snows that fell pretty much all around it.

The storm did contribute to a death Wednesday in Wichita.

Police say Sandra Joslin of Wichita died just before 5:30 a.m. when her sedan was struck by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train near 20th and Topeka. She was driving north on Topeka at about 5 a.m. when her car became stuck in snow on the tracks.

She called her son for help — but not 911, which could have stopped train traffic — and he was there trying to free the car when the train came around a bend about 650 feet from the crossing, Police Lt. Joe Schroeder said.

"She was in the process of getting out of the car" when it was hit by the train, Schroeder said.

Joslin was knocked out of the car and died at the scene, he said.

National Guard's aid

Farther east, towns were digging out from deeper snowfalls.

The weather shut down state government in Topeka for two days. Offices were to reopen today.

The National Guard provided some of its Humvee all-terrain trucks to ferry doctors and nurses from snowbound homes to community hospitals in rural counties and were on hand to coordinate transportation for people with health problems.

Guard vehicles also were pressed into service to transport blood from Kansas City to a Topeka hospital.

Although the governor declared a disaster to activate state emergency procedures, property damage around the state was light and very unlikely to reach the threshold to trigger federal aid, Tafanelli said.

The heaviest snow fell in the southeast corner of the state.

Folks in Labette County, which recorded up to 18 inches of snow, were still having a hard time getting around Wednesday "because of all the wind and blowing snow we had across the county roads," said Don Sauer, emergency management director for the county.

Altamont Mayor Herb Bath spent most of Wednesday shoveling out, including a 4 1/2-foot drift that piled up about a foot in front of his front door.

"The 18 inches is not that bad, but the drifts were what was killing everything," Bath said. Outside of town, drifts topped 8 feet, he said.

The city's regular web homepage was replaced with a terse warning from the Altamont Police: "NO TRAVELING. ALL ROADS are IMPASSABLE! With the extreme wind chills & temps, we CANNOT stress enough - stay warm at home!"

The site also noted that the Post Office didn't get any mail Tuesday, lest residents venture out to check their mailboxes.

By Wednesday afternoon, major roadways in the area were passable but still treacherous, Bath said.

"The roads are all snowpack," he said. "They've tried to clear them off as best they can but they're just glare ice."

Kansas residents should see the state's roadways "in very good condition" by today, said Deborah Miller, secretary of the Department of Transportation.

A little stir crazy

Retired couple Wilma and Don Hunt of Wichita heeded pleas from authorities to stay put during this latest storm, but they began to stir Wednesday.

"We haven't been out since Sunday," Wilma Hunt said.

"It wasn't too bad. We enjoy reading, and I've done things I needed to do like clean out a cupboard and closet. I made cranberry bread and a lot of soup."

Among her first chores outdoors was shoveling off the front and back porches and putting out feed for the birds.

Wichita and the rest of the state should get a break from winter storms for a few days, forecasters say.

While highs today will do well to get out of the teens in Wichita, Friday should see the area climb to the freezing mark and Saturday should bring highs in the 40s.

There's a slight chance for snow Sunday night and Monday, Hayes said, but at this point it doesn't look like that storm will amount to much.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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