The first snow of winter snarled the morning and evening commutes in the Wichita area Monday and canceled classes today at area schools. The Wichita, Andover, Augusta, Maize and Circle districts said late Monday that no classes would be held today.
A news release from the Wichita district said that Tuesday evening activities would be rescheduled and cited "dangerously low wind chill projections, as well as the condition of Wichita roadways that may prompt dangerous delays for children outside waiting at their bus stop or walking to school."
Monday's snow caused scores of accidents but few serious injuries.
"It makes for pretty out the window, but not so pretty when you're driving," a Sedgwick County dispatch supervisor said late Monday afternoon.
Nearly 100 accidents were reported during the evening commute, Sedgwick County dispatchers said.
Most were one-vehicle mishaps — cars sliding off exit ramps or spinning out of control on the slick roads, a dispatch supervisor said. No serious injuries were reported.
Three people escaped with minor injuries when their car skidded off a drive and into a lake at Sedgwick County Park shortly before 4 p.m., a dispatch supervisor said.
Conditions weren't much better in the morning.
More than 120 accidents were reported in Wichita between 5 and 9 a.m., Lt. Doug Nolte said. Six with injuries were reported.
Wichita was expected to receive up to 5 inches of snow by the time the storm ended, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The Emergency Accident Reporting Plan remains in effect for today, since slick roads are expected to again challenge motorists.
Authorities blamed many accidents in the Wichita area on commuters tailgating or driving too fast for the conditions.
Bad weather and poor road conditions were common themes across Kansas.
One person was killed in southeast Kansas in a collision that sent two other people to the hospital, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Sally Donaldson, 63, of Toronto was killed when the car she was driving went out of control on the icy road and hit a sport utility vehicle just before 9:30 a.m. on U.S. 75, about three miles north of Independence.
Two people in the second vehicle were taken to Mercy Hospital in Independence for treatment.
Dangerous wintry weather affected other parts of the country Monday.
Icy roads were blamed in accidents that killed three people in Arkansas, two in Louisiana, two in Oklahoma and one in Alabama.
Clearing the roads
Streets and highways — particularly bridges and elevated roadways — were snowpacked and slick throughout much of the day in Wichita.
Maintenance crews were scrambling to treat and clear roadways late Monday afternoon, even as reports of more accidents surged.
Tony Decicco, a maintenance engineer with the city of Wichita, said there were two 12-hour shifts with about 60 pieces of equipment and 60 workers per shift.
A 20-man crew also worked to clear downtown and Old Town, he said.
The Kansas Department of Transportation had 24 snow plows out, with crews on 12-hour shifts, said spokesman Tom Hein.
Arctic air that moved into the region late Monday should remain for the next several days, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Highs will only be in the teens in Wichita today, with wind chills projected to approach minus-10.
Overnight lows in Wichita tonight could fall below zero, Pearce said. If that happens, it will be the first time temperatures have been below zero in more than five years.
Considering how mild the winter has been so far in the area, Pearce said, "I think the cold will be a wake-up call."
The weather also caused power issues for parts of the day.
School in Valley Center was canceled Monday because of a power failure, USD 262 officials reported.
Nearly 2,500 Westar customers in Sedgwick County did not have electricity Monday morning — most of them in Valley Center. Power had been restored by noon.
AirTran Airways canceled all flights into and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday because of the snow that pummeled the city. That included flights from Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport.
Four Delta flights from Wichita were also canceled — arrivals from Atlanta and Memphis, and departures to Atlanta and Minneapolis.
AirTran also canceled its first two flights today from Wichita to Atlanta.
Sedgwick County fire officials on Monday asked residents and businesses to clear snow from fire hydrants. That can save time when firefighters need to access the hydrant in a fire emergency, officials said.
Residents should create a 3-foot-wide clearing around the hydrant, along with a pathway to the street.
Homeowners and businesses also should clear house and building numbers of snow so they are visible to emergency responders, officials said.