Wichita schools, Wichita State cancel Tuesday classes ahead of snow

A driver of one of the many city snow plows gets ready for the expected snowstorm Monday. (Feb. 3, 2014)
A driver of one of the many city snow plows gets ready for the expected snowstorm Monday. (Feb. 3, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Wichita schools and Wichita State University have canceled Tuesday classes because of heavy snow that is expected in the area, district officials said.

In addition, all Wichita school district athletic events will be rescheduled, as will the All-City Honors Orchestra dress rehearsal and concert scheduled for Tuesday.

The city of Wichita warned drivers to be cautious, saying that road conditions may deteriorate rapidly during the storm. The city put its road crews on 12-hour shifts but has only enough salt and sand to treat emergency routes one time.

Elsewhere across the state, the Kansas National Guard began creating response teams to assist stranded motorists.

Wichita residents can expect “an awful lot of snow coming down in a relatively short amount of time” Tuesday from a storm poised to potentially more than double the city’s snowfall total for this winter, as one city official put it.

Up to 5 inches may be on the ground by 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Wichita area, according to the National Weather Service. As much as 9 inches is expected in the Wichita area by late in the day Tuesday, forecasters say. A winter storm warning is in effect until midnight Tuesday in the Wichita area.

Higher amounts are expected in the Topeka area and the Flint Hills, forecasters say.

In Topeka, where wind chills are expected to reach 20 below zero on Tuesday, Gov. Sam Brownback ordered agency offices in Shawnee County to close on Tuesday except for essential personnel. The Legislature will not meet Tuesday, and driver’s license bureaus across the state will be closed.

On Monday afternoon, Brownback encouraged Kansans to stock up on emergency supplies and cautioned against the use of alternate heating sources in the case of a power outage.

“Every year Kansans die from carbon monoxide poisoning or fires caused by use of camp stoves, ovens or other heat sources that were never meant to be used indoors,” Brownback said.

The governor urged Kansans who rely on propane for heat to make sure they have enough to last several days. The state has faced a propane shortage, which has caused prices to surge in the past few weeks. The storm comes during the first week of a state-run program designed to help low-income families get access to propane for the winter.

Maj. John Eichkorn of the Kansas Highway Patrol said that troopers will be continuously updating road condition on the patrol’s website throughout the storm. Road information also is available at or by calling 511.

The Kansas National Guard will have guardsmen stationed at armories to act as response teams for stranded drivers, said Maj. General Lee Tafanelli, director of the Kansas Emergency Management.

Little wind will accompany the snowfall, but it will intensify later Tuesday and cause blowing and drifting across much of the eastern half of the state. That figures to make travel difficult in a large geographic area.

Secretary of Transportation Matt King said highways will be cleared but that some roads would be closed for safety. He also stressed caution even with plowed roads.

“We can clear a road relatively quickly and then with the strong winds, it can get drifted shut in a number hours, so we just ask everyone to be mindful of that,” King said.

Winds will not be as strong in the Wichita area late Tuesday afternoon, weather service meteorologist Robb Lawson said, so the metropolitan area may catch a break on drifting.

“It could be a lot worse,” Lawson said.

Via Christi and Wesley Medical Center spokespeople said the hospitals are gearing up for the storm. Hospital staff members are preparing sleeping rooms for staff members who may need to stay over.

Via Christi has set up a phone number for staff members to call if they need volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles to pick them up and take them to work.

Wesley Medical Center has also started to coordinate staff members for the storm and has been working to stock up on extra supplies to help keep services from being interrupted, a spokesman said.

Only snow – not ice – is expected with this storm, which is good news for Wichita’s street maintenance crews, said Joe Pajor, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Utilities.

“It’s a break for the motorists” as well, he said, because snow is more manageable to navigate. “The sooner we can get to snow, the more manageable it can be to us and the more friendly it will be for commuters also.”

The city’s supply of salt-sand mixture has been stretched by ice storms earlier this winter, Pajor said. It has enough salt-sand mix to treat the city’s emergency routes one time.

As a result, Pajor said, the city will be “conservative” in treating streets. But with the precipitation coming down as snow, crews will plow streets first and then spread salt and sand at slick locations.

Officials ordered 3,000 tons of salt in December, but that order has been only partially filled due to high demand around the nation.

“People are going to have to expect snow on the roadways,” Pajor said. “It’s going to be a while for us to get down to clear pavement.”

If forecasts prove accurate, Wichita will more than double its snowfall total for the winter. The city has recorded 6.4 inches of snow so far.

Bitter cold is expected to settle into the area after the snowfall ends, forecasters say. Highs on Wednesday will be in the low teens, with overnight temperatures falling below zero early Thursday morning.

With the snow and cold in the forecast, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued several recommendations on how residents can make sure their pets are safe.

They include keeping animals indoors, particularly puppies and kittens, small animals and dogs with short hair.

If pets do go outside, wipe their legs, feet and stomachs after they come inside. Salt and other chemicals can make animals sick if they ingest them.

Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias, Kelsey Ryan and Bryan Lowry of The Eagle

Related stories from Wichita Eagle