February 24, 2013

Forecasts: Storm will be unlike last week's

For the second time in less than a week, weather forecasts are showing a major winter storm headed this way.

For the second time in less than a week, weather forecasts are showing a major winter storm headed this way.

Wichita public schools joined numerous area schools in deciding not to have classes Monday. Wichita Catholic schools and Wichita State University also canceled classes Monday.

“It is still looking like it could equal to or exceeding last week’s storm,” said Kevin Darmofal, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

But, he cautions, this storm won’t be anything like the last.

Nine to 14 inches of fresh snow are predicted with this storm along with possibly strong winds, creating blizzard-like conditions and drifts several feet high.

The storm may begin with freezing rain turning to snow – thus creating the potential for downed power lines and trees.

Among the area schools closing are Andover, Augusta, Derby, Goddard, Maize, Valley Center and Mulvane.

The All-City Honor Bands concert and rehearsal scheduled for Monday at Century II will be rescheduled, as will Monday’s Wichita school board meeting, officials said.

Wichita school officials said all teachers, paras and school-based food staff should not report to work Monday. But others, including custodians, secretaries, clerks, security officers, administrators and employees at non-attendance centers, are expected to report.

“District officials will monitor weather conditions throughout the day and dismiss staff early if weather conditions warrant that action,” spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in an e-mail Sunday evening.

Gov. Sam Brownback also ordered all state offices closed in 67 counties where the storm is expected to have the greatest impact. Included on that list are Sedgwick, Butler and Cowley.

In a media briefing Sunday night, Brownback and Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, urged Kansans to stay off the roads and highways if they didn’t need to travel. They also encouraged drivers to be prepared.

The governor said residents have not been driving in much snow for the past few years. “We haven’t had much until last week,” he said. “It is really easy to get stuck in a ditch.

“Caution is really merited. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, is more than an accurate statement for this.”

The city of Wichita urged residents on Sunday to avoid non-essential travel from Sunday night through Tuesday.

“Based on current forecast conditions, the Wichita area is expected to receive a total between the two storms of an unprecedented 30 inches of snow,” said Joe Pajor, deputy director of Wichita’s public works. “Under these conditions, the city is working to respond and we appreciate and need the cooperation of the public.”

Visibility will be to near zero at times with winds at 20 to 30 mph, gusting up to 40 mph. Travel will be treacherous.

Although the storm is expected to start later Sunday evening, the brunt is expected Monday.

Road crews prepare

Wichita’s public works crews are beginning preparations short-handed for a storm that Pajor said, “looks worse than the last one.”

The end result could be restricted traffic flow through the city in the immediate wake of the storm.

Sand and salt supplies are low after last week’s storm, Pajor said, as are the number of locations where snow can be transported off city arterials and emergency routes.

“We used a little more than half of salt and sand inventory fighting the storm last week,” he said. “So we want to be careful going forward. Road salt is in demand not only in Wichita but from here to the Canadian border. Everybody is trying to resupply at the same time.”

At the same time, El Dorado officials issued a press release saying they had plenty of salt and sand on hand, at least 600 tons to get through the storm.

A spokesman for Westar Energy said the utility company has crews on standby to repair outages.

Residents are encouraged to keep cell phones charged and to go to the company’s website -- or call 1-800-383-1183 for more information..

Wichita officials said this storm will be approached differently than the last.

The plowing strategy for the blizzard will be different – snow plowed into the center of arterials, and traffic cut to one lane each direction.

Because the snow will be plowed into the center of streets, it will mean drivers won’t be able to turn left at some intersections.

Streets will not be treated with sand and salt until Tuesday, when the snow ends and plowing is under way.

City snow emergency plans calls for clearing of designated snow emergency routes on three-tiered process – primary, secondary and school routes. Neighborhood streets are not part of the snow removal plan.

“It would have been nice if we’d had a few days to recover, to do some equipment rehab,” Pajor said. “The unprecedented nature of this much snow in this short of period of time will create conditions not only on residential streets but all across the entire city that are basically unprecedented for the traveling public.”

Would the city close down?

That’s a decision that may ultimately be a policy decision recommended first by the city manager and decided by the City Council, said Van Williams, spokesman at City Hall.

Residents and businesses are responsible for clearing and keeping passable public sidewalks adjacent to their properties, Pajor said.

Also, the weather service cautions people to consider the roofs on buildings.

“The new snowfall could exacerbate the already nearly foot totals on roofs and could be a concern to structures,” the Sunday morning NWS forecast said.

Temperatures are expected to stay almost 20 degrees below normal – with the highs in the low 30s and lows in the high teens and low 20s.

The Emergency Accident Reporting Plan will go into effect if weather conditions and accidents make that a necessity, said Lt. Doug Nolte, spokesman for the Wichita Police Department.

“If the storm materializes like we expect it to, we are asking citizens to stay off the roadways if at all possible. If it is necessary to travel, we want you to make sure to take extra time and make sure you slow down.”

Nolte encouraged neighbors to check on elderly residents and those with special needs.

He also reminded Wichitans to make sure the snow is off their vehicles before they take to the streets, making sure that the brake lights, turn signals, tag and windows are free from snow and ice.

Closing schools

Many schools are looking at three straight snow days after also being closed last Thursday and Friday because of the first storm.

According to Wendy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Wichita district, each year school officials plan on between three and four snow day cancellations.

“It’s actually based on the number of contact hours, not days, per se,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail. “You may remember two years ago that we had some issues with our high school seniors having the appropriate number of hours and we had to extend their senior year by several hours, in several schools. We have not calculated exactly where we are at this year, as the need has not been there yet. Our weather team will be in conversation throughout the weekend, and we’re hopeful that we don’t encounter conditions that will prompt additional closure.”

Beechcraft will be open on Monday for all first-shift production, as well as all non-production areas.

Tuesday’s election

For now, Tuesday’s election remains on, but Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said the potential blizzard poses a variety of problems for her office: little or no turnout, getting election workers to the polls without accident and getting high-tech voting machines to sites without damage.

Lehman encouraged voters to cast an advance ballot between 8 a.m. and noon Monday at the election office, 510 N. Main, Suite 101. Hopefully, that would allow voters to beat the brunt of the storm, plus the office already has voting equipment and workers at the site, she said.

Any voter standing in line at noon will be allowed to vote.

Already, advance voting is almost nil, Lehman said. About 2,700 advance ballots have gone out; 1,050 had been returned.

“Pretty sad when you consider we have 91,000 people eligible to vote,” she said.

One immediate problem will be finding contractors with time to do another round of snow removal at polling places, she said, after the first round began last week.

Lehman said her office is monitoring the weather and will remain in contact with city officials and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office if the weather worsens.

But she is unaware of any statutory authority to postpone Tuesday’s primary, especially with the April 2 general election a little more than a month off.

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