The Wichita area experienced icy conditions that intensified as Saturday wore on, and heavy snowfall blanketed the city during the evening.
By 8 p.m., the National Weather Service in Wichita had measured 2.7 inches of snow, ice and sleet in Wichita – with up to 5 inches possible before sunrise Sunday.
Chance Hayes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita, said it looked like the heaviest snowfall was going to be in a line roughly from Kingman, through Newton, to Council Grove. That line is farther northwest than expected earlier in the day. Snow was falling in Kingman by mid-afternoon, and later, around Hutchinson.
Great Bend had already logged six inches by mid-evening. At the same time, Hutchinson, McPherson and Salina each reported between 3 and 4 inches.
“The area we’re really watching is north and west of the Wichita area,” said Jerilyn Billings Wright, another meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. “They are getting four to seven inches of snow.”
She added that the precipitation should be over by morning.
By 8 p.m. the snowfall rate in Wichita was already on the decline.
From midnight until about 8 p.m. Saturday, emergency dispatchers had logged about 150 traffic accidents in Sedgwick County. That number was expected to climb as winter precipitation continued overnight.
Wichita police were advising people not to drive if they can avoid it, and early Saturday afternoon, the Sedgwick County emergency dispatch system was asking motorists to stay off elevated roadways because of ice-glazed pavement. During the noon hour, there was a rash of traffic accidents, apparently none serious. Road crews were out.
The weather had already taken a toll: One person died in a weather-related accident early Saturday morning on the Kansas Turnpike near the Haysville/Derby interchange.
The driver has been identified as Stephen E. Dewald, 48, of Andover, the Kansas Turnpike Authority said on its website. He was driving a 2001 Dodge Ram.
The Turnpike Authority gave this account: Around 2:50 a.m., the driver was going north in the inside lane, tried to pass another vehicle in the outside lane, lost control on the icy roadway, spun 180 degrees, left the road on the east shoulder and overturned in the ditch.
The driver was ejected.
At Saturday’s noon briefing for reporters, Wichita police Sgt. Bart Brunscheen said his message was: “If you don’t have to drive, please don’t drive.” If people do drive, he said, they should keep speeds down and not get in a hurry. If your driveway is slick, he said, and you don’t have to leave, stay inside.
Especially icy conditions were reported south of Wichita. In Wichita, signs along Kellogg warned drivers to slow down for possible icy spots on bridges.
According to Hayes, the forecast for the Wichita area called for most of the snow coming between 6 p.m. and midnight. Northeast Kansas could get 5 to 7 inches snow.
State officials have been urging people to have a car emergency pack if they have to venture out on the weekend before Christmas. The kit should have bottled water, food, medicine, blankets, a shovel and an ice scraper. Motorists also are advised to have a full tank of gas before they leave and make sure cellphones are fully charged.
In Wichita, street crews have been putting down liquid brine in preparation for the storm. They were expected to be out this weekend as needed. Crews will be working 12-hour shifts to clear snow routes and major secondary arterial streets during and after the storm.
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle