Wichita area dodges brunt of second storm

02/25/2013 8:08 AM

08/05/2014 11:52 PM

The second massive storm to rock the Great Plains in five days drifted south Monday and delivered wintry blows along the Kansas-Oklahoma border, causing at least two fatalities.

Wichita, though, escaped the brunt of the storm, even though snow fell intermittently throughout the day. By 9 p.m. Monday, Wichita had received 3 inches of snow, but most of it had melted because the temperatures stayed above 33 degrees throughout much of the day. Another 3 to 6 inches was expected to fall Monday night into Tuesday.

“It is one of those humbling events for meteorologists,” Andy Kleinsasser, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita, said of the storm. “It is not behaving like we thought it would.”

The back-to-back storms, though, wiped out Wichita’s snow removal budget, creating a six-figure deficit that means service and staff cuts in the city’s public works department, city officials said Monday.

And the storm was strong enough that officials for the Wichita school district called off school for Tuesday. School officials said they were worried about the snowfall predicted for overnight and the ability for students to travel safely to school in the morning. They said they anticipated classes being back in session Wednesday, the first for students since last Wednesday.

Wichita’s Catholic schools also canceled classes for Tuesday as did Friends University and some districts surrounding Wichita.

While Wichita, for the most part, escaped the worst of the storm, it caused problems elsewhere. Winds gusting 30 to 40 mph caused whiteout conditions around the state Monday, closing roads and leading state officials to ask people to stay inside.

The Kansas Highway Patrol reported that a 21-year-old man was killed when his car hit a patch of ice on I-70 in Sherman County near Goodland. Carlos Esqueda of Kansas City, Kan., died shortly before 9 a.m. when he was thrown from his car after it swerved into the median and rolled. A passenger escaped serious injury in the crash, Col. Ernest Garcia of the KHP said, because he was wearing his seatbelt and Esqueda was not.

In Woodward, Okla., where 15 inches of snow fell, one person was killed when the roof of their house collapsed. Two other buildings in town also collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Nearly 10,000 people in western Oklahoma were without power because of the storm.

Blizzard conditions

Wichita did gets bursts of heavy snowfall throughout the day.

The snow reduced visibility to near zero in Wichita over the noon hour and numerous flights into and out of Mid-Continent Airport were grounded. The airport remained open Monday night and workers continued to plow and treat runways. Passengers were advised to check with their airline before arriving at the airport.

K-96 was snow packed in northwest Sedgwick County by late Monday afternoon, and a multi-car accident on I-135 sent four people to the hospital in Harvey County. Two Harvey County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars were struck in that incident, a Harvey County dispatcher said, but the deputies were directing traffic at the accident scene and were not injured.

The four people hurt in the accident just north of Newton before 4 p.m. were taken to Newton Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries, the dispatcher said.

For the most part, people heeded the warnings of forecasters and emergency state and city officials to stay at home if possible. From midnight Monday morning through 7:30 p.m., five injury accidents were reported in the Wichita area.

“That’s common and not out of the norm,” a Sedgwick County dispatcher said.

Numerous highways in southwest and south-central Kansas were closed throughout parts of the day Monday as the storm unleashed snow and strong winds. Kingman had 8 inches of snow by 9 p.m. Monday while Anthony had 5, Newton 4 and Hutchinson and Winfield 3.

“The wind is the bugaboo,” said John Lehman, an observer for the National Weather Service based in Coldwater, where 6 to 8 inches of snow fell on Monday. “It is blowing pretty bad.”

Kansas usually averages two or three weather events each winter that deliver more than 6 inches of snow, said Chad Omitt, meteorologist-in-charge of the Topeka branch of the weather service. The past week alone has seen two storms dump a foot or more of snow over a large portion of the state, he said.

“The scope – the widespread nature of the snows – is rather unique here,” Omitt said.

City resources

City Manager Robert Layton said Monday that the tab for snowstorms over the past five days will run taxpayers a half-million dollars.

Add in the $229,000 the city spent in January for snow and ice treatment – on weekends with extensive overtime – and the city’s $560,000 snow removal budget is gone, replaced by a deficit of about $170,000.

The two snowstorms of the past week have been costly, Layton said – including salt and sand for the city’s streets, repairs to the city’s street equipment, employee overtime and more than 20 contractors hired last week to help plow streets.

And winter might not be done, the city manager said.

“If we plan on another snow event or two, we could be as high as $250,000 over budget,” Layton said.

The deficit means a certain “reprioritizing” of public works projects and staffing, the city manager said.

“We won’t know for sure where we stand until we’re into budget revision time in April and May,” Layton said.

Some options include reducing street maintenance funds.

“We’d prefer not to do that,” Layton said. “If we need to, we’ll look for other opportunities to reprioritize.”

“That’s nothing we like to do,” Vice Mayor Janet Miller said. “But we have to make sure people can get to the essential places they need to get.”

There also could be personnel adjustments, including leaving some vacant public works jobs open.

Homeless shelters

The storm caused Inter-Faith Ministries Warming Souls Winter Shelter to extend its hours on Tuesday.

People who checked into the Inter-Faith Inn at 320 E. Central on Monday were allowed to remain through 7 a.m. Wednesday.

“We kept our men’s and women’s Winter Shelters open all day last Thursday for the same reasons,” Anne Corriston, executive director of Inter-Faith Ministries, said in a news release issued Monday by the organization.

Typically the homeless shelters closes daily at 7 a.m. But because of the severity of the storms and the extended periods of exposure to cold temperatures, the decision was made to keep the shelters open throughout the brunt of the storm.

Easing the drought

The National Drought Mitigation Center says the snowstorms have eased dry conditions but have not ended the drought.

Climatologist Mark Svoboda says it takes roughly a foot of snow to make an inch of water. That means Kansas would need 2 to 4 feet of snow just to erase precipitation deficits since October.

Svoboda says that doesn’t count the deficits from a drought that has lasted almost two years in Kansas and one year in the northern Great Plains states. Kansas needs 12 to 16 inches of water to fully recover.

The effects will linger well after the so-called “climatological drought” ends. It takes months or years for pastures and rangelands to recover to the point where there is good forage for livestock.

Contributing: Associated Press

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