April 10, 2013

1,000 customers without power in Sedgwick County; ice-covered tree limbs could fall

Trees are breaking under the weight of freezing rain and wind.

Trees are breaking under the weight of freezing rain and wind.

The Wichita area has received a quarter-inch of ice – and before the day is over, will probably get another quarter-inch of ice.

Everything is coated in ice. Flowers. Trees. Cars.

Use caution.

“We’ve been receiving reports of accidents on elevated bridges and highways,” said Chris Jakub, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita, early Wednesday morning.

The emergency accident reporting plan is in effect.

“Given the forecast of widespread icy accumulation, the city began pre-treating elevated bridges about 8 o’clock last night,” said Aaron Henning, maintenance engineer for Wichita’s Public Works department. “At midnight, they expanded to a full activation of snow response which is about 50 operators and drivers, again treating emergency routes in anticipation of that changeover from liquid to ice.”

The material used to treat Wichita’s streets and roads is a salt and sand solution.

“At this point, all emergency routes have been treated once and we are maintaining a full staff throughout the storm and will be monitoring for the need to treat further,” Henning said.

Right now, the roads aren’t horrible – if you use a little common sense and caution. But they have the potential to be slick.

“There have been accidents but we aren’t super swamped,” a 911 Sedgwick County dispatcher said shortly before 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The majority of accidents have been on K-96 and I-235, Henning said.

“Those were elevated KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation) maintained sections,” Henning said. “We haven’t received any reports of city-maintained streets thus far.”

What has helped in keeping the numbers of accidents down, so far, has been the ground temperature. With temperatures in the 70s Monday and most of Tuesday, the ground surface hasn’t begun to freeze yet.

“It appears the ground temperature held throughout the night,” Henning said. “But the chance of the changeover is still looming. Temperatures are expected to remain at or below freezing for most of the day. The overnight low tonight is going to be down to 26. the chance is still there. The perception we continue to get, the residential moisture that is left could change over and freeze at anytime.”

The high on Wednesday is expected to be 33 degrees, but the overnight low Wednesday night is predicted to be down to 26 degrees. Temperatures on Thursday are expected to only climb into the mid-40s.

Winds are out of the northwest at 15 to 25 miles per hour with 30 mph gusts. As the ice builds on trees and power lines, there could be power shortages. At 11:30 Wednesday morning, Westar Energy reported 1,000 customers in Sedgwick County were without service; and 267 were without power in Reno County.

Historically speaking, the last time Wichita was in a significant ice storm was January 2005. During that storm about 121,000 Westar customers were without power. Some power wasn’t fully restored for more than a week.

“It only takes a quarter of inch with the wind blowing to put extra stress on those tree limbs,” Jakub said. “One of our employees already reported that a tree in his front yard – half of it was gone.”

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