A potent winter storm that has already been blamed for one death in Kansas and prompted numerous closings Monday is expected to dump more than a foot of snow and create blizzard conditions in the eastern half of the state today, official say.
"We will see blizzard conditions for some period — at least while it's snowing," said Tyler Harmon, a WeatherData meteorologist.
The storm has canceled Wichita-area schools and flights at Mid-Continent Airport and prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to close state offices today in Topeka and Shawnee County.
By Monday night, classes had been canceled for today at public schools, in Wichita, Newton, Derby, Haysville, Goddard, Clearwater, Renwick, Andover, Augusta, Circle, Douglass, El Dorado and Rose Hill; Wichita Catholic Diocese schools; Central Christian Academy; the Independent School; Wichita Collegiate School; Trinity Academy; and Wichita State, Friends and Newman universities.
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Perhaps 20 inches of snow could fall in southeast Kansas, while the Wichita could see several inches as well. The National Weather Service is predicting 2 to 4 inches, while WeatherData is projecting 4 to 8.
The snow began falling late Monday night and was expected to persist for most of today.
"Southeast Kansas is going to get walloped," Harmon said. "It'll be a blizzard like they haven't seen in many years in southeast Kansas."
Along with the steady snow, forecasters say strong winds will be the dominant factor in today's storm. North winds will be steady at more than 30 mph in the Wichita area, Harmon said, with persistent gusts topping 40.
"No one is going to know how much it really snowed" because winds will be blowing the snow around so much, Harmon said.
"I definitely wouldn't want to be heading east of Wichita," said Jim Caruso, a meteorologist for the weather service in Wichita. "I just would not go.
"A lot of those roads are going to be totally impassable."
The storm's structure is such that western Sedgwick County and Andover to the east could see vastly different snowfall totals, Harmon said.
The storm coated streets across Kansas with ice on Monday, causing a deadly crash and forcing schools to close.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said 61-year-old Janet S. Devena of Agra was killed Monday morning when she lost control of her vehicle on U.S. 36 east of Kensington in the north-central part of the state. The vehicle hit a field entrance and rolled before coming to rest on its top.
Dozens of non-injury slide-off accidents also were reported, the patrol said.
Brownback made the decision to close state offices after meeting with the Kansas Adjutant General's Office, Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Department of Transportation, Kansas Department of Administration and the National Weather Service.
"It may not look overly dangerous for the morning commute but moderate to heavy snowfall is expected soon after employees arrive and our concern will be getting them home safely," Brownback said in a news release.
The Legislature also will not meet today.
Dozens of day care centers, community organizations, colleges and school districts canceled classes Monday, including Emporia State University and Kansas State University's campuses in Manhattan and Salina.
AirTran canceled all of its flights in and out of Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport today. AirTran and two other airlines — Continental and American — canceled flights Monday night. More cancellations can be expected today.
Wind chills are projected to be below zero in Wichita throughout the day, forecasters said, and could easily approach minus-15 later tonight.
The temperature tonight figures to fall well below zero, Harmon said, making it the coldest night of the winter.
KDOT spokeswoman Barb Blue said road crews were out Monday preparing the surfaces of the roads. She said ice was reported on roads across much of the state.
"The warning to drivers is to be cautious of your speed," Blue said, adding that the conditions will only worsen.
She said drivers should be prepared and bring warm clothing with them in case they become stranded because the wind chills will be life-threatening.