Heavy snow in parts of western Kansas led to a bevy of road closures and power outages on Sunday – and an Amtrak train traveling from Garden City to Lamar, Colo., a distance of 100 miles, arrived 10 hours late.
As much as 14 inches of snow had fallen in Elkhart, near the Kansas-Oklahoma state line and just miles from the Colorado state line, and many trees and power lines were reported down in the southwest part of the state, according to a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Dodge City.
Jeff Johnson said some of the places hardest hit by the weekend storm included areas west of Garden City and Liberal. He said the Dodge City area had received as much as 5-plus inches of snow as of 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
Garden City reported some power outages, but by 4 p.m. Sunday, the city tweeted that much of the power had been restored. It warned, however, that more power outages could follow and that the Horace Good Middle School would be open for any residents in Finney County without power. Residents of Garden City’s utility company were encouraged to call 620-276-1290 to report power outages to help take off some of the calls to the county’s 911 dispatch center.
Sewer lift stations in the city also lost power and were beginning to be overwhelmed as of Sunday night. The city was asking residents to reduce flushing and water usage for now.
According to a post on the Garden City Police Department’s Facebook page Sunday morning, the department had lost power. The department urged 911 callers to call only in the case of an emergency as phone lines were being overloaded.
The I-70 corridor from Hays to the Colorado state line was closed as of midmorning on Sunday due to reduced visibility, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Highway Patrol. The freeway was just one of many roads closed in western Kansas due to the storm.
The Southwest Chief Train No. 3 of Amtrak arrived in Lamar at 5:08 p.m. Mountain time, 10 hours and nine minutes late.
“The Chief was affected by the weather,” said Christina Leeds of Amtrak Corporate Communications in Washington, D.C. “It was going slower, but the big portion of it was because of a broken plow train.”
There were 144 passengers on board the train.
In addition, the train’s horn was not working, which meant the train had to stop at every intersection to warn vehicles crossing the tracks.
“That’s correct,” said LaJunta Amtrak agent Bobbie Reed.
“That train has had all kinds of problems today.”
As of early Sunday afternoon, U.S. 24 was closed from Colby to Hoxie, U.S. 40 was closed from Oakley to the Colorado border, and U.S. 83 was closed south of the Kansas-Nebraska border, according to KDOT. Shortly after 6:30 p.m. Sunday, I-70 was closed west of Salina due to road conditions, lack of truck parking and hotel accommodations.
By Sunday evening, most people who could were navigating with tractors.
Kyle Hemmert, who owns and operates Oakley Livestock’s sale barn in Oakley, said Sunday night the area received close to 20 to 25 inches of snow.
“It’s blowing, and my wife has been telling me I’ve got too many calves,” he said. “The thing about a late spring blizzard is that it makes it tough on cattle. The cattle would rather have cold weather with fluffy snow. But this came with a burst of rain, 32 degrees of snow, and it takes the energy right out of those calves. Hypothermia sets in fast.”
He’s been navigating with his tractor.
“I’ve already had six calves die – had my first one born today feet first. So, I had to deal with that. We have calf warmers, but they operate on electricity, which we don’t have. I’ve been putting some in the pickup to try and warm them up on the floor, but that’s not good enough. That’s the deal.”
Trooper Tod Hileman, who patrols an 18-county area in northwest Kansas, said late Sunday morning that he knew of up to 30 reported “slide-outs” and at least two non-injury crashes.
“It’s a good idea to stay put today out here,” Hileman said. “It’s supposed to be 61 degrees (Monday), so this won’t last long.”
A number of state highways and county roads in western Kansas were also closed as of late Sunday morning. Johnson said the snow in the Dodge City area was expected to last until sometime Sunday afternoon.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management on Sunday activated an emergency operations center in Topeka in response to the storm affecting the western part of the state and flooding in the southeast, according to a news release.
Representatives from the Kansas National Guard, Department of Transportation, Department for Children and Families, Fire Marshal’s Office, Highway Patrol and American Red Cross were stationed in the operations center to coordinate any needed response efforts.
The storm was expected to produce heavy snowfall and high winds through early Monday in western Kansas, with total snowfall accumulations of 6 to 14 inches expected.
Significant rain is also causing flooding in the eastern third of the state, where rainfall of nearly 5 inches has been received in recent days. The highest rainfall amounts were across Bourbon, Cherokee, Crawford, Labette, and Neosho counties, according to the release.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Saturday declared a state of emergency that names Cheyenne, Decatur, Gove, Graham, Greeley, Logan, Norton, Rawlins, Sheridan, Sherman, Thomas, Wallace and Wichita counties.
The declaration also designates an emergency for flooding in Bourbon, Cherokee, Crawford, and Neosho counties.
Kansas National Guard teams are ready to assist motorists stranded by closed or impassable roads, the release said. Teams were set to work out of Colby with additional units on standby or later moving to Greeley, Kearny, Lane, Morton and Norton counties.
The Colby and Norton armories are also open as warming centers for stranded motorists.
In addition, the following shelters have been opened: Atwood, Rawlins County; Bird City, Emergency Building, Cheyenne County; Dighton/Lane County, Methodist Church, 225 Lane St.; Garden City, Horace Good Middle School, 1412 Main; Hoxie, Methodist Church, 930 12th St.; Hoxie, Christian Church, 1025 Queen Ave.; Selden, Selden Community Center, 108 N. Kansas; Syracuse, Hamilton County (two locations); and WaKeeney, Trego County Fairgrounds, Commercial Building, 13th and Russell Ave.
Water rescue teams were also on standby to assist with flooding in Cherokee County, if needed. All counties affected or potentially affected by snow or flooding have been contacted by the state emergency operations center.
Mark Russell, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Dodge City, said at 1:30 p.m. Sunday that the snow was beginning to taper off, but already he knew there was going to be major tree damage – again – for western Kansas.
In January, the region was hit with a major ice storm.
“A lot of trees were partially weakened in that storm,” Russell said. “But this heavy snow finished the job. We’ve had intermittent blizzard conditions with winds gusting from 40 miles per hour to 50 in some locations. We’ve had snow bands moving around and then tapering off.”
It is not typical to receive a major snowstorm in Kansas this late in the season – but it has happened.
On May 21, 1931, 8 inches of snow was reported in Syracuse, and in Richfield on May 2 and 3 in 1978, 10 inches of snow was reported. On May 3, 1979, another 10 inches was reported in Richfield in Morton County in the far southwest corner of the state.