Weather

Overnight snow catches Wichita commuters by surprise

A KETCH shuttle bus carrying passengers slid into a fence while trying to avoid a parked truck at the bottom of the hill near Calvary Cemetery. Another car hit the shuttle but everyone was OK. (Jan. 14, 2015)
A KETCH shuttle bus carrying passengers slid into a fence while trying to avoid a parked truck at the bottom of the hill near Calvary Cemetery. Another car hit the shuttle but everyone was OK. (Jan. 14, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Overnight snow seemed to have caught motorists by surprise, as the morning commute spawned numerous accidents in the Wichita metropolitan area Wednesday.

Seven cars were involved in a collision at the interchange for I-135 and K-254 and four others were part of a collision at Hydraulic and I-135. Kansas Highway Patrol troopers were busy working accidents around the metro area.

About a dozen people were hurt in various accidents around the metropolitan area Wednesday morning, a Sedgwick County emergency dispatch supervisor said. None of the injuries were serious, however.

More than 60 accidents were reported in the four hours before the work day began at 8 a.m. Emergency responders were working 15 accidents around the metropolitan area at 8 a.m. alone, according to one emergency dispatch official.

“The roads are just really slick,” one Sedgwick County emergency dispatcher said. “I don’t know if people weren’t expecting it or what.”

I-235 was especially slippery on the north side of the city, according to scanner radio traffic. I-135 was backed up in northbound lanes from K-96 to 13th Street due to several accidents on the route.

“It’s an ice rink over here — a lot of people going into the ditches” at I-235 north of 25th Street North, a law enforcement officer reported to dispatch shortly after 7 a.m.

Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies were busy working accidents west of the city as well.

“It’s kind of everywhere,” a highway patrol dispatcher said of the problem areas Wednesday morning. “They’re saying it’s full of ice.”

Snowfall amounts varied around Wichita. While only about a tenth of an inch of powdery snow fell at the National Weather Service office in southwest Wichita, about an inch fell in northwest parts of town and a half inch closer to downtown.

“There was just this little blotch” of heavier snow “over Wichita,” said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Given the wide variance in snowfall totals, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised” that drivers were caught by surprise as they navigated the drive to work.

Street crews were treating routes with salt and sand and attempting to target problem areas with additional treatment.

The Emergency Accident Reporting Plan was activated shortly after 7 a.m. for the city of Wichita. The rest of Sedgwick County was added to EARP less than an hour later.

The highway patrol contacted the Kansas Department of Transportation shortly before 6 a.m. to report slick roads, KDOT spokesman Tom Hein said, and full crews were activated. They began laying down salt and sand on state highways.

“It appears this was quite a concentrated band” of snow, Hein said. “There’s nothing down south and nothing north of 61st” Street North.

But in between, as much as an inch of snow fell overnight. And “that’s a lot of high-volume highways” where the concentrated snow band passed through, he said.

“I hate to say it wasn’t that bad, but drivers need to consider the conditions,” Hein said. “That seemed to be a lot of our problems this morning.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s inconsiderate, but some drivers drive like it’s normal conditions and the conditions this morning were not normal.”

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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