By Staff and Wire Reports
A winter snowstorm hit northwest Kansas on Tuesday, bringing with it strong winds that caused drifting, blowing snow and low visibility.
County offices in Ellis County closed early Tuesday afternoon as the storm set it. They reopened at a later time this morning, as did the offices in Russell County.
Most schools remained closed in the region for the second day in a row.
The Kansas National Guard deployed nine teams consisting of two Humvees and four soldiers to transport emergency and medical personnel and assist stranded motorists in the state. The teams operated out of Hays, Dodge City, Emporia, Hiawatha, Iola, Kansas City, Kan., Mission, Salina, Topeka and Wichita. Their mission was anticipated to end mid-morning.
"We still have some of the most difficult conditions ahead of us as the snowfall is followed by heavy winds and bitterly cold temperatures," said Gov. Sam Brownback.
"Travel will remain treacherous, and temperatures will be dangerously cold. So, please, stay safe, and if you don't have to travel, stay home."
Kansas government offices closed again today, and legislators canceled their work for a second consecutive day.
Brownback announced late Tuesday state offices again would be closed in the Topeka area, keeping all but essential personnel at home. The governor said snow, strong wind and frigid temperatures were creating significant challenges in keeping roads and highways clear.
The storm, which already has been blamed for a fatal accident in southeast Kansas, also prompted legislative leaders to cancel all of their meetings today at the Statehouse.
The heaviest snow had moved by Tuesday afternoon into northeast Kansas.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said the driver of a southbound car on U.S. 69 south of Pittsburg went out of control and swerved into the northbound lane, where an oncoming car hit it on the side. A passenger in the first car, Helen Prater, 67, Parsons, died, as did the only person in the second car, Judith Harvey, 59, Pittsburg, the patrol said.
Though the patrol said no precipitation was falling at the time, the Kansas Department of Transportation described the highway as partly packed with snow and ice.
No accidents were reported in northwest Kansas by the Kansas Highway Patrol on Tuesday, according to the KHP crash log early this morning.
Some of the higher snowfall amounts were reported across portions of south-central and central Kansas. Hutchinson reported 9 inches, as did much of McPherson County. Mount Hope had 10 inches.
Hays had 6 inches of snow, according to the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center south of Hays. That amounted to 0.27 of an inch of precipitation. The overnight low was 4 below zero.
Elsewhere in the state, snow accumulations were far more modest. Southeast Kansas had got just 1 to 3 inches of snow. Out in western Kansas, accumulations generally ranged from 3 to 6 inches.
"We are looking at a prolonged period of cold, and we are going to have a few more shots at some light snow as we get into (tonight) and Thursday," said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Wichita. "We are going to have a little more snow as well on Friday night."
The northern half of the state was forecast to have wind chill temperatures of 15 to 25 below zero throughout today, with actual daytime temperature of 5 to 10 degrees. It is not forecast to warm up above freezing until Tuesday of next week.
The Kansas Highway Patrol, which was working numerous vehicle slide-offs, discouraged motorists from traveling due to slick roads and whiteout conditions.
Highway Patrol Maj. John Eichkorn said in one incident Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 635 in the Kansas City area, a motorist struck a KHP car, and it had to be towed. Eichkorn said the trooper was outside the car, assisting another motorist and no one was injured.
In Topeka, the Department of Transportation said a semi hit one of its plowing trucks on Interstate 70, spilling 180 gallons of diesel fuel and temporarily closing a stretch of the eastbound lanes.
Wichita officials warned residents even before the storm hit they planned to put road crews on 12-hour shifts, but the city had only enough salt and sand to treat emergency routes once.
"They are not putting anything; there is nothing on the streets. They are not even removing snow," said Wichita resident Emira Palacios. "None of those streets had salt."
Despite the dangerous roads, Palacios said she had to go to her tax preparer to do her taxes Tuesday because would be leaving later this week for eastern Europe for an extended period.
So she drove slowly, but complained it was tough to get out of a parking space or to make a turn, and she couldn't even see the edge of the sidewalks.
"It is a little scary," she said of the roads in Wichita. "It is hard to see sometimes."
Wichita Mid-Continent Airport had numerous flight cancellations, said airport spokeswoman Valerie Wise.
In Topeka, Brownback hopped aboard a Kansas Department of Transportation plow truck to observe snow-removal work on Interstate 70.
The governor was accompanying senior equipment operator Allen Ansberry on a 17-mile stretch of I-70 from mid-Topeka to its exit for the small town of Maple Hill.