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Storm dumps 16+ inches across NWKS

2/22/2013

By Hays Daily News staff

In the battle of man versus Q, it's not hard to see who's had the upper hand.

"We're losing," I.D. Creech, city of Hays public works director, said Thursday morning.

City crews, working around the clock in 12-hour rotations, were making little headway Thursday morning, as the winter storm continued to dump several more inches on top of the 10 already on the ground.

"We're concentrating on trying to keep the main routes open and the main emergency snow routes," he said. "We haven't even hit the secondary routes for probably four or five hours because we can't get at them."

Navigating the snow

Dealing with motorists stuck on the roadways and the lack of visibility due to blowing snow also posed difficulties for city snow removal. Crews were pulling out all the stops to get their jobs done.

"Every piece of equipment we have is moving snow," Creech said. "Whatever department we have: utilities, parks department.

"We're getting some of their people and all of the equipment we can out here. We're pushing everything we can."

Creech said if more snow comes Monday, as the National Weather Service has predicted, pushing that snow could become increasingly tricky. He requested residents not pile snow in the streets in an effort to keep those areas clear for traffic.

Historic storm

You have to go back to 1903 to find a bigger single-day snowfall in February, and then not by much.

Wednesday's snowfall of 10 inches is the second highest 24-hour snowfall report for February since records have been maintained at what is now the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center, which has maintained snowfall records since 1894.

The high is 12 inches, recorded on Feb. 27, 1903.

In addition to Wednesday's snowfall, total accumulation in Hays was 17 inches.

February 1903 was an active month, the snowiest month on record, when a record 42 inches of snow fell.

In addition to the 12-inch Feb. 27 snow, heavy snows also were reported that month on Feb. 26 when 7 inches fell and Feb. 4 when 6 inches fell.

Prior to the latest round of snow, the previous high was 18 inches in December 1983. Before that, 25 inches fell in March 1958.

Travel troubles

Hays police officers also put in long hours Wednesday night assisting semis exiting Interstate 70 due to icy conditions.

"There was just limited parking along north Vine," Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler said. "Past experience tells us if we don't tell them where to park, it quickly becomes a mess up there."

Officers also made rounds through Hays reminding residents who live near emergency snow routes to move their vehicles off the street.

Snow continued falling throughout Thursday, and officials with the city of Hays and Ellis County urged residents to avoid travel.

Ellis County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Ring was thinking the fewer people on the roads, the better Thursday.

"As long as people stay off the roads -- the less traffic out there, the less likely of a slideoff or an accident," Ring said at mid-morning Thursday. "Tow truck drivers have been very busy. There's numerous slideoffs, people getting stuck on the interstate.

"It's treacherous; Russell County, I know their tow trucks drivers aren't even going out right now, it's so dangerous."

Slick roads

The storm also made driving conditions dangerous and caused several accidents throughout northwest Kansas. A section of the Interstate in Trego County temporarily was closed late Wednesday when several vehicles began sliding off the road, said Emergency Manager Kathleen Fabrizius.

"We were trying to move wrecks out of there," Fabrizius said, noting she did not believe anyone was injured seriously.

An emergency shelter also was opened at Trego Community High School in WaKeeney late Wednesday, when motel rooms were full and travelers were continuing to seek refuge from the conditions.

"We had several car loads in and out by midnight," she said. "Because traffic subsided on the interstate, most of them decided to head on out, so we didn't have anybody after that."

The shelter was closed, but Fabrizius was continuing to monitor the situation Thursday to determine if it needed to be reopened.

Interstate closed

Interstate 70 was closed late Thursday morning, initially from Hays to Salina. That expanded later in the day. At 6:30 p.m., the Kansas Department of Transportation closed the eastbound lanes of I-70 from Goodland to Salina. Both lanes from Hays to Salina were closed.

At 9 p.m., KDOT reopened all lanes of I-70 in northwest Kansas.

All other routes in Kansas remain snow-packed and travel is discouraged.

Conditions were tough on travelers Wednesday and into Thursday, said Tod Hileman, public resource officer for the Kansas Highway Patrol in Ellis County.

"They're still sliding in the ditch," Hileman said at midmorning Thursday. "We have multiple vehicles we're trying to send wreckers to, get out of the ditch.

"Most of the places are white-out conditions. We're just trying our best to make sure nobody gets stuck out here."

Ring said Thursday morning he had requested I-70 be closed, as had other counties.

Kristen Brands, Public Affairs Manager for District 3 for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said the department will close roads after careful consideration.

"First and foremost, whether or not it's ... safe for the public to travel," she said. "We also do close for accommodations."

KDOT road crews "have been battling it," Brands said of the storm, which affected all corners of the state. "Just a lot of accumulation."

Emergency situations

In Ellis County, city and county governments were working together to help EMS staff reach residents needing emergency medical care. Both city and county public works crews and fire departments were on-call to help if an ambulance had difficulty navigating snow-packed streets, said EMS director Kerry McCue.

"We've reached out to them about getting emergency vehicles to and from," McCue said. "Whatever we have to do, because (ambulances) quite frankly were not designed to be in deep snow. They don't have chains on them, so they don't do very well in these kinds of conditions."

The conditions also can limit air ambulance flights and long-distance medical transfers, McCue said.

While EMS staff are always in a state of readiness, extra precautions are taken to care for patients in cold conditions. Intravenous fluids are kept warm and patients are covered to prevent hypothermia during the transfer, he said.

Clearing the way

Residents worked off and on Thursday clearing driveways and sidewalks on the city's quiet snow-drifted streets. As snow tapered off late Thursday afternoon, Wilfred Kreutzer cleared the driveway of his home on Marjorie Drive. He said he had been shoveling and snow blowing throughout the day, "a little bit here and there."

The last snow of this magnitude that Kreutzer, a longtime Hays resident, said he had seen was in 1967.

"I think that was worse yet," he said. "It was about waist deep out here."

Shoveling the drifts left by Q likely will continue to be a daunting and potentially health-threatening task throughout the cleanup process.

Although the number of emergency calls related to the storm have not been extreme, McCue said residents should be careful when heading outside during or after a winter storm.

"If you're not in good physical condition, hire somebody to do that strenuous work, so you don't ever-exert yourself," he said. "I think anytime someone goes out in inclement weather, they need to dress appropriately and make sure they're safe."