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Start of winter

After experiencing a barely noticeable winter last year followed by a drought-stricken spring, summer and fall, the region could use some moisture. Desperately.

The forecast for tonight suggests there is a 100-percent chance of precipitation that likely will come in the form of snow. Winter might not officially begin until Friday, but northwest Kansas might be blanketed with the white stuff by Thursday morning.

A slow-moving storm has been working its way across Colorado after dumping more than a foot of snow on the Rocky Mountains. While that might be great news for anybody planning a holiday ski trip, those living in the so-called flatter-than-a-pancake state need the storm to keep blowing this way. The National Weather Service predicts winds gusts up to 45 mph will push the snow into Kansas, perhaps accumulating as much as 2 inches.

Wary of even 100-percent chances of precipitation, we'll wait and see. The usually reliable Farmer's Almanac did forecast a winter of average precipitation for the plains; tonight could be the start of that season.

If so, be careful. Snow and ice covering sidewalks and streets for the first time each winter tends to produce higher than usual numbers of accidents. It isn't as if pedestrians and motorists alike haven't encountered the white stuff in the past. But re-adjusting to difficult conditions generally takes a little time.

The Kansas Department of Transportation reports it's ready.

"At this time, we are stocked up with salt and sand, ready to go," said Peter Carttar of KDOT.

City and county crews are prepared as well. All that leaves is the drivers on the road. We remind those individuals of a few common-sense tips to navigate anything Old Man Winter brings:

* Drive slowly. Starting, stopping and turning all take longer when snow covers the roads.

* Increase safe following distances. The usual three to four seconds needed to respond to vehicles in front needs to be eight to 10 seconds.

* Utilize brakes as recommended by the manufacturer. Whether you have anti-lock brakes or not, threshold braking is recommended as the best way to stop.

* Don't drive unless necessary.

"Stay off the roads as much as possible during inclement weather," KDOT's Carttar said. "If you are traveling, always buckle up, reduce your speed and give our crews on the highways extra room."

For information about road conditions and travelling information, call 511 or visit 511mm.ksdot.org.

Above all, be safe. If the forecasts are accurate, warmer temperatures will return Thursday.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net