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Snowfall no record breaker; more on the way

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Second rate was good enough, all but bringing much of northwest Kansas to a screeching halt at its peak.

With 17 inches of snow in the gauge, that's enough to fall into second place in terms of a snowfall event.

The record still belongs to Feb. 26 and 27, 1903, said Larry Ruthi, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Dodge City. That two-day storm brought with it 19 inches, 7 inches on Feb. 26 and another foot on Feb. 27.

In the latest round of snow, the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center measured 10 inches of snow Thursday morning and another 7 inches on Friday.

That's still no match for the 22 inches of snow that fell northeast of Russell, Ruthi said, the report coming from a Cocorahs observer, part of a network of volunteer weather observers. A second report near Natoma put the total at 21 inches.

Keith Haberer, Russell County's emergency management director, reported 19 inches of snow at his farm near Paradise. Fifteen inches fell at Bunker Hill where his office is located.

Despite the snow, Haberer said traffic was moving "pretty good" this weekend.

On Thursday, he said, "every business was pretty well shut down."

To the west, Kathleen Fabrizius, Trego County's emergency management director, twice had to open up a shelter for travelers unable to get out on Interstate 70. A shelter also was temporarily opened up at a church in Quinter.

WaKeeney motel rooms had filled up both Wednesday and Thursday, but traffic accidents that closed the interstate Wednesday forced a handful of travelers into WaKeeney.

On Thursday, Fabrizius reopened a shelter at the Trego County Fairgrounds, providing housing for "six people, two dogs and two horses."

Despite the snow, I-70 remained open until Thursday evening.

That caused considerable concern for emergency management directors.

Haberer said it "took forever to get the interstate shut down so we could get ahead of" motels filling up.

The problems didn't stop there, however, as motorists continued to get on I-70 at ungated entry ramps to the east, only to be told by Kansas Highway Patrol troopers to exit the highway at Russell.

"We never ran out of motel rooms," Haberer said.

Ruthi said the slow-moving storm system that brought the heavy snow was able to capture plenty of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

And he said another system is setting up in the Pacific, ready to move into the region today and Monday.

That storm, he said, likely will take aim at a point east of Hays, perhaps Russell or Salina, and will be accompanied by strong winds.

"We could have a full-blown blizzard on Monday," Ruthi said.

There's the possibility of anywhere from 6 to 8 inches of snow on Monday, accompanied by the strong winds that might move some of the snow that fell in last week's storm.

Marc Russell of NWS's Dodge City office warned the weather will make traveling dicey Monday.

"If the wind is pushing 40 mile an hour gusts, or even higher, 50 mile an hour gusts, it starts to break up the surface layer," he said. "You got snow falling as well. Those two things combined, with that strong of wind, it's going to make things really difficult Monday."

"If the wind is pushing 40 mile an hour gusts, or even higher, 50 mile an hour gusts, it starts to break up the surface layer. You got snow falling as well. Those two things combined, with that strong of wind, it's going to make things really difficult Monday."

Despite early models that projected today's system would arrive east of Hays, Russell said Hays is once again in the crosshairs.

"I don't think it is (an the edge of the storm) anymore. The way it's looking, we're probably going to see snow and strong winds well west of Hays, too," he said. "I don't know if they'll see 6 inches (west of Hays). They may see 1 or 2 inches, but they're definitely going to have at least some light accumulating snows and very strong, 30, 40-mile-an-hour winds.

The snow will keep temperatures low through the end of the week.

"We're not going to warm up anytime soon," Ruthi said, adding that temperatures will struggle to break the freezing mark.

* HDN reporter Randy Gonzales contributed to this story.