Storm dumps more on snow-weary Wichita

Closings, cancellations and accidents piled up with the snow in the Wichita area Tuesday as the latest in a series of winter storms dumped snow on the metropolitan area.

The Wichita public school district was one of several that have canceled classes today. Also canceling classes: Andover, Derby, Goddard, Haysville, Maize, Newton, Rose Hill, Valley Center and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.

About 4 1/2 inches of snow had fallen at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport by 10 p.m. Tuesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schminke said up to 1 1/2 inches more snow was expected overnight before tapering off after 6 a.m. today.

Wichita's parochial schools closed at 2 p.m. Tuesday and all USD 259 after-school and evening activities were canceled as the snow continued to fall.

Tuesday's storm came a week after a winter storm packing high winds, low temperatures and plenty of snow closed schools and made driving miserable for much of last week.

Snowfall totals Tuesday for the city were expected to range between 5 and 8 inches, meteorologist Kevin Darmofal said. Some parts of northern Sedgwick County could see nearly a foot, he said.

It has been nearly 50 years since a foot of snow fell in Wichita, according to weather service records.

For a while, it seemed that mark would be matched on Tuesday.

"The snowfall rate is higher than we expected," National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Cook said late Tuesday morning, when visibility only stretched a few blocks.

About 5 inches had fallen by 2 p.m. in northeast Wichita and eastern Sedgwick County, WeatherData president Mike Smith said. Perhaps 3 inches had fallen in downtown Wichita.

More than 200 accidents were reported between midnight and 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sedgwick County emergency communications officials said. Injuries were reported in at least 24 of those accidents, though none were considered serious.

Dozens of slide-offs were also reported.

The number of accidents troubled Tom Hein, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

"I don't know what it is," Hein said. "You can tell it's icy.

"There's just a lot of fast driving going on."

Late Tuesday afternoon, Newton officials urged motorists to stay home as street conditions worsened.

"Street crews are working on the snow route only, and outlying areas could become impassable," Erin McDaniel, Newton's public information officer, said in a statement.

"Newton is receiving about 1 inch of snow per hour," McDaniel said. "If that continues to hold through the night, Newton could see up to 14 inches of snow. In that event, it will take street crews a significant amount of time to clear even the snow route."

Newton was in a heavy snowband that pounded cities north and west of Wichita on Tuesday afternoon and evening: 11 inches had fallen by 3:30 p.m. near Burns in Marion County, 10 inches in McPherson, and more than 9 inches in Hutchinson, Lyons and north of El Dorado in Butler County.

A lull in the snow reached Wichita early in the afternoon, but winds kept plowing crews from making much headway.

"There's really a lot of blowing" snow, Hein said.

Crews applied a dry salt-sand mixture to ramps and bridges, he said, but motorists still need to be careful.

The Emergency Accident Reporting Plan was activated for the city of Wichita on Tuesday morning, and police urged residents not to drive if at all possible.

City libraries and recreation centers closed at 5 p.m., and CityArts classes and activities were canceled, too.

All Wichita Clinic immediate care centers closed at 5 p.m.

The USD 259 cancellations include rehearsals, parent conferences, athletic practices and competitions, and the middle school after-school program, district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said.

A mid-afternoon Delta flight from Atlanta was canceled at Mid-Continent Airport, along with the related return flight to Atlanta.

Snow flurries are possible today, with gradual clearing later in the day. Highs will reach the upper teens, Darmofal said, with wind chills dropping as low as minus 15.

Tonight's low could fall below 0, but then a gradual warming trend will commence, he said.

Highs are expected to reach the low 40s by Saturday and the 50s by early next week, Darmofal said.

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