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Wichita digs out from heaviest snow in nearly a decade

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, at 7:24 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, at 10:12 a.m.

— One of the most potent snowstorms in years brought more than a foot of snow to much of central Kansas and Wichita's heaviest snow in nearly a decade, weather officials said.

Widespread school closings and slow going on snow-packed roads are in the wake of the storm, and numerous accidents shut down the Kansas Turnpike for several hours and clogged Kellogg in the heart of Wichita this morning.

Authorities shut down the southbound lanes of the turnpike at Wellington because of an accident involving multiple semi-trailer trucks and passenger cars near the Kansas-Oklahoma border, said Rachel Bell, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Motorists wanting to continue south had to divert to U.S. 81 from Wellington to the Oklahoma border and then reconnect with I_35, Bell said.

Southbound lanes were finally reopened at about 1 p.m., she said.

Westbound lanes of Kellogg from the central business district moved at a crawl much of the morning because of accidents.

More than a half-dozen flights were canceled and others delayed today at Mid-Continent Airport "due to weather elsewhere," said Valerie Wise, air service and business development manager for the Wichita Airport Authority.

"At no time has the airport been closed, nor caused any delays or cancellations" because of the snow or runway closures, Wise said in an e-mail response to questions.

Both dual parallel instrument runways remained fully operational throughout the storm, she said.

Snow amounts around Wichita varied widely, said Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The total reported at the official recording site in southwest Wichita was 8 inches, but more was reported on the north side of town.

It's the most snow to fall in Wichita in one storm since February 2003, Smith said, when 10.2 inches fell.

Higher snow totals were reported north and west of Wichita. Among them:

• Marion, 15 inches

• McPherson, 15 1/2

• Pawnee Rock, 15

• Lyons, 14

• McPherson, 14

• Great Bend, 13

• Hutchinson, 13

• Newton, 11 to 13

• Salina, 11

• Iola, 10

• Hays, 9

• Dodge City, 9

• Kanopolis, 8

• Ness City, 8

• Caldwell, 8

• Augusta, 8

• Douglass, 8

• El Dorado, 7 1/2

More than a foot of snow fell in southeast Kansas as well.

Isolated reports of 17 and 19 inches of snow in parts of Hutchinson "can't be ruled out," said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service.

But forecasters were discounting reports of 20 inches in Hillsboro and 17 in Newton, he said.

Snow plows were busy around the state, clearing freeways, highways and streets.

"I don't think I've ever seen them do a better job," Larry Ruthi, meteorologist-in-charge at the Dodge City branch of the weather service, said of the city's snow plow crew. "The main streets were plowed and clear when I went out for my morning run at 6 a.m."

Freeways around Wichita were in pretty good shape by Wednesday afternoon, Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Hein said.

"This sun is helping, no doubt about it," Hein said. "We've still got snowpack and icy conditions in spots, but it's nothing like this morning."

Ramps for interchanges were particularly troublesome for motorists during the morning commute, he said, and he was relieved that USD 259 did not have classes. That spared buses some challenging drives.

A steady diet of sunshine along with warming temperatures over the next several days should help conditions improve, forecasters say.

Highs should climb near 30 on Thursday and above freezing on Friday. The weekend should offer highs in the 40s.

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

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