A slight warm-up on the way for Wichita

Riverside Leadership Magnet students trudge through the snow to a shoveled sidewalk  Monday morning after more than 4 inches of fresh snow fell overnight. (Feb.10, 2014)
Riverside Leadership Magnet students trudge through the snow to a shoveled sidewalk Monday morning after more than 4 inches of fresh snow fell overnight. (Feb.10, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Wichita will shiver again Tuesday, a day after several inches of fresh snow blanketed the city and the surrounding region.

There could even be a few snow flurries for good measure.

But then, at long last, higher temperatures should arrive – and forecasters say they figure to stick around for a while.

“From here on out, it looks like it’s going to warm up,” said Tyler Dewvall, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in Wichita.

Thanks to the snow cover lingering from the more than 4 inches that fell Monday, Tuesday’s high won’t get above the lower 20s. But a shift in the weather pattern will push cold air and winter storms farther north and east this week, Dewvall said, allowing warmer air to fill in behind it.

Temperatures are expected to climb into the 30s on Wednesday and into the 40s on Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday could be even warmer.

“On Sunday, we could be flirting with close to 60s,” Dewvall said. “It depends on how much sun we get to melt snow off.”

Computer models suggest the warmer temperatures could last well into next week, he said.

That is welcome news to Kansans who have had their fill of snow and cold this month. A handful of suburban school districts around Wichita closed Monday because of the snow that fell in the early morning. There were numerous slide-offs during Wichita’s morning commute as well. No serious injuries were reported with any of the traffic accidents and slide-offs in and around the city, authorities said.

Maize schools announced Monday afternoon that middle and high schools would release 15 minutes early to allow buses extra time to navigate snowy streets.

Wichita schools remained open Monday, though district officials cautioned that some buses would run late.

“We had some mad convective banding that occurred” in the upper atmosphere over Wichita, prompting higher accumulations than initially forecast, said Eric Schminke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Convection allows for particularly heavy snowfall rates – sometimes referred to as “thunder snow.”

Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for Wichita schools, said the district’s weather team evaluated conditions Sunday night. Because forecasters called for only 1 to 2 inches of snow, “we did not have crews out early this morning,” she said.

Even so, “early morning reports said 2 to 3 inches, so that wouldn’t have changed our decision to have school,” she said.

Arensman said several buses ran late Monday morning and some got stuck in snow. Officials still were gathering information about bus delays and attendance figures.

She said the Wichita district – the state’s largest district, with more than 50,000 students – can’t wait much past 4:30 a.m. to cancel or delay school because crews begin preparing meals and buses start rolling to pick up students for schools with 7 a.m. start times.

About a third of Wichita students ride buses.

“We take student safety very seriously, and based on reports we received, we made the best decision we could based on the information we had available,” she said.

Monday’s storm brought Wichita’s snowfall total for this winter to 19.4 inches, several inches above the seasonal average.

City crews began applying salt-sand mix to Wichita’s streets early Monday morning. Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works and utilities, said better salt supplies and forecasts calling for much warmer temperatures should help crews make significant progress in clearing streets.

“Our sand-salt mix is expected to be much more effective going forward,” Pajor said Monday.

The harsh cold that followed nearly 9 inches of snow last week rendered salt virtually useless, he said, because its effectiveness diminishes sharply in temperatures below the mid-20s. But crews were able to see improvements in street conditions once they were able apply the mix on Friday afternoon through Saturday. Street crews remain on 12-hour shifts.

“Last week’s storm was very different than typical Wichita weather,” Pajor said. “Given the weather forecast that we had and given the salt supply ... I believe we acted prudently.”

When the storm hit last week, Wichita had just enough salt to make one pass on the city’s snow emergency routes. Crews rationed usage, making high-risk areas a priority.

The city has contracted with Mies Construction to haul salt from its supplier in Hutchinson, Pajor said. Normal salt deliveries have been averaging 75 tons a day, and Mies is bringing an additional 125 tons a day. The additional deliveries have allowed the city to fill one-third of its storage supply, he said.

Even with Monday’s snow, he said, crews are facing “a much different, much better scenario” than last week, thanks to the warmer temperatures and no wintry precipitation in the forecast for the rest of the week.

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