The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for much of southern Kansas from Friday through Sunday, with state officials warning residents to prepare for a major ice storm.
“The potential for a crippling ice storm” exists, said Kevin Darmofal, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service.
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The winter storm watch covers more than 30 counties across the southern tier of Kansas, stretching from west of Dodge City to far southeast Kansas. Up to an inch of ice accumulation is possible, Darmofal said, and some locations could see more.
The result could be “very hazardous, if not impossible, travel,” he said.
Considerable uncertainty remains about how much ice will accumulate as a result of the freezing rain, forecasters say. Computer models disagree on whether temperatures will warm enough Saturday and Sunday afternoons across Kansas for the precipitation to fall as rain rather than freezing rain.
AccuWeather forecasters currently think the Wichita metro area will be spared the worst of the storm’s potential, with the bull’s-eye a narrow band north and west of the area.
“The key for Wichita is what temperatures do on Saturday,” said Phil Warren, a senior meteorologist with the AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions in Wichita.
If temperatures climb above freezing Saturday afternoon or evening, he said, that will spare Wichita a major ice event. But parts of central and western Kansas could see significant icing, with the power outages and travel dangers that are common in such conditions.
Officials with the Kansas Division of Emergency Management urged residents to check their winter emergency kits ahead of the storm, replenishing any needed supplies.
Residents are being encouraged to stay indoors this weekend if possible, officials said. With power outages possible, they recommended the stocking of emergency kits with at least a three-day supply of water – 1 gallon per day per person – nonperishable high-energy foods, extra blankets, flashlights and extra batteries, a safe alternate heat source, extra medications and other essentials.
Meteorologists say a light wintry mix will start at about the same time as the evening commute Friday in the Wichita area.
“It’s looking like the real significant accumulations will hold off until Saturday morning into the afternoon,” Warren said. “The question is what do the surface temperatures do?”
Westar Energy has already alerted neighboring utilities to the potential need for assistance in the wake of the storm, said Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for the utility.