Sunday’s blizzard, which left up to 8 inches of snow in some areas of Kansas, was called an “unprecedented event” by a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.
Meteorologist Brad Ketcham said he couldn’t remember, nor could any evidence be found on record, of a prior blizzard warning issued by the NWS during November.
“It’s really an unprecedented event,” he said. “And it’s not even the meteorological winter yet, which starts Dec. 1.”
That doesn’t mean forecasters didn’t know blizzard-like conditions were coming into Kansas early Sunday. However, the intensity of the winter storm was somewhat unexpected, and predictions that originally called for 2 to 4 inches of snow in north-central and northern Kansas ended up being 5 to 8 inches.
“The wind we knew was going to happen, so we expected a blizzard,” Ketcham said. “But we thought it would stay north of I-70. Then about 24 hours before, the system took a shift to the south and deepened, got a little stronger. At least we had enough warning to get a warning out the night before.”
Salina received a total of 6.8 inches of snow, Ketcham said. Other totals reported by Kecham included Beloit, 7 inches; Lincoln and north of Brookville, 6 inches; Lindsborg, Hillsboro and Ellsworth, 5 inches; and Hays, 4 inches.
“The heaviest band of snow stretched from Salina to Marysville, with the northeast getting the heaviest snowfall,” Ketcham said.
Sunday was the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and thousands of travelers were expected to be on the road, so Ketcham said the early blizzard warning and updates encouraged more people to travel on Saturday when temperatures were still in the 50s and 60s.
“We did hear from some people who changed their travel plans and came home Saturday because of advance warning,” he said.
It’s a good thing most people listened, because the blizzard made visibility nearly nonexistent and caused the closings of several major highways Sunday, including I-70 from WaKeeney to Salina in the morning, then Salina to Junction City as the storm moved eastward.
Low visibility combined with slick roads caused dozens of slide-offs and wrecks that stretched the capabilities of first responders, Kansas Highway Patrol troopers and Kansas National Guard Stranded Motorists Assistance Response Teams.
The Kansas Highway Patrol reported two weather-related injury wrecks in Saline County and one in Ellis County.
• About 8:35 a.m. Sunday, a Ford Fusion driven by Terrika S. Hayes, 31, of Jackson, Tenn., was westbound on I-70 when blizzard conditions contributed to the vehicle striking the back of a CMV trailer. Hayes, who was wearing a seat belt, was taken to Salina Regional Health Center with injuries. A juvenile male in the vehicle was uninjured.
• A Lincoln LS driven by Shanna Michelle Yocham, 40, of McPherson, and a Freightliner semi truck driven by William D. Gawith, 60, of Hays, were southbound on Interstate Highway 135 at about 5 p.m. Sunday. As a result of an ice and snow packed road, Yocham lost control of her vehicle and spun beneath the trailer of the semi.
Yocham, who was wearing a seat belt, was taken to Salina Regional Health Center with injuries. Gawith and a passenger in his truck, Jay M. Thompson, 50, of Victoria, were uninjured.
• On I-70, about 4 miles east of Ellis, an eastbound Volvo cargo van driven by Oleg C. Brown, 51, of East Point, Ga., lost control on the icy highway about 6 p.m. Sunday.
The van slid and jackknifed into the median, striking a Dodge truck that had been parked there as a result of a previous crash. The occupants of the truck, Frankie L. Mobley, 28, and Legacy L. Roach, 25, both of Tucumcari, N.M., were injured and taken to Hays Medical Center. Brown and a passenger in his van, Clifford G. Higgins, 37, of Austell, Ga., were uninjured. All were wearing seat belts.
Thankfully, the snow was melting nearly as fast on Monday as it fell on Sunday, and temperatures were expected to steadily rise during the rest of the week.
“There’s another chance of precipitation during the weekend, but temperatures should be in the 40s or 50s with lows in the 30s,” Ketcham said. “That’s more in the normal range for this time of year.”