Chaston Hoeme, a senior at Kansas State University from Scott City, called his dad Tuesday morning to say he was finished with finals but wanted to finish some Christmas shopping before leaving Manhattan on Wednesday to head home.
“I told him they’re talking about a blizzard here by 2 o’clock,” said Stacy Hoeme, who farms near Scott City, “so he’d better be home by 2. He wasn’t too enthused about that.”
Driving into the teeth of a blizzard is not a good idea.
Kansas’ first significant winter storm of the 2012-13 season will begin moving into the state from Colorado on Wednesday morning, bringing a blizzard warning for northwest and west-central Kansas.
Winds will decrease but snow amounts will increase as the storm moves east, peaking at 3 to 6 inches north of Salina.
Snow will be the heaviest across the northern half. Wichitans could wake up to a trace to an inch of snow Thursday morning, forecasters said.
Early forecasts called for a blizzard watch in the northwest and west-central area, but that was bumped up to a blizzard warning Tuesday afternoon.
That means the confidence there will be a blizzard increased from 50 percent to more than 80 percent, said Scott Lockhart, a meteorologist for the National Weather service in Goodland.
The warning sends a strong message to travelers headed in that direction to be wary of road conditions along the I-70 corridor.
Blizzard conditions – winds of at least 35 mph, visibility of one-quarter mile or less and snow – are forecast to begin in eastern Colorado and cross into Kansas on Wednesday morning. The warning extends to Hays on the east, south to Scott City, Dighton and Ness City along K-96 and north into Nebraska.
The peak of the blizzard is supposed to be in midafternoon and last no more than six hours.
“It’s fast moving,” Lockhart said. “Northwest Kansas should be done by midnight.”
Snowfall is expected to be up to 4 inches with wind gusts of more than 50 mph, he added. Temperatures should dip to 5 to 15 degrees overnight Wednesday.
At least two school districts – Oakley and Colby in the northwest – had already called off school for Wednesday by Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re supposed to get hit pretty hard,” Oakley High School principal Marlo Klassen said.
Most hotels along I-70 said they still had rooms Tuesday afternoon but said that will likely change as motorists get nervous about driving through the area.
“We’re not booked up now,” said Jessica Kennedy, who was working the front desk at Colby’s Hampton Inn. “But by tomorrow afternoon, I expect we’ll be full.”
At least the snow could bring the northwest about two-tenths of an inch worth of precipitation, Lockhart said.
That’s good news for a drought-stricken area that has had a shade more than 9 inches of precipitation this year — nearly 10 1/2 inches below normal. If there is no more moisture in 2012, that would break the record for the driest year, set in 1956 at 9.19 inches, Lockhart said.
“We’ll probably see blowing dirt and dirt drifts mixed with the snow, as dry as we’ve been,” he added.
Stacy Hoeme welcomes any kind of moisture for his winter wheat.
“Better than nothing,” he said. “They always seem to get the wind right. But when they say 5 to 6 inches of snow, we usually get 1 or 2.
“We’re still getting everything prepared in the feedlot and equipment ready. It only takes a couple of inches to get 2-foot drifts.”
Snowfall will taper off as the storm dips further south. The National Weather Service in Dodge City has a blizzard watch in effect through Wednesday for its area, meteorologist Wesley Hovorka said.
Dodge City area is expected to receive 1 to 3 inches.
“Maybe less than that,” Hovorka said, adding that the winds could gust up to 65 mph.
As for Wichita, don’t expect too much in terms of moisture. Not good for an area that is nearly 7 ½ inches below normal for precipitation for the year.
“It’s going to be really windy,” said Scott Smith, meteorologist for the weather service in Wichita. “We may see a dusting or an inch. We’re not expecting any major impact in our area. Up toward Russell, they have a good shot at having more.”
Wichita’s temperatures on Wednesday will reach the low 50s before the cold front moves through and folks wake up to low 20s on Thursday morning, he said. Winds will be 30 to 40 mph.
As for the north central and northeast, the winds will drop down to 20 to 30 mph but could bring up to six inches to Concordia and north to Nebraska after midnight Wednesday, said Kris Sanders, meteorologist for the Weather Service in Topeka.
Emporia could get 1 to 3 inches of snow, while Topeka, Lawrence and Manhattan are looking at 2 to 4 inches during Thursday’s early morning hours, he added. Moisture will start as rain in eastern Kansas and turn to snow.