By BILL DRAPER
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) – The second major snowstorm in a week battered the nation’s midsection Tuesday, dropping a half-foot or more of snow across Missouri and Kansas and cutting power to thousands.
At least three deaths were blamed on the blizzard, and gusting winds blew drifts more than 2 feet high and created treacherous driving conditions for those who dared the morning commute.
About 80,000 homes and businesses in northwest Missouri, northeast Kansas and western Oklahoma awoke to no power as heavy, wet snow weighed on power lines. Kansas City, Mo., was in a state of emergency as blinding snowfall, worsened by sustained gusts estimated at 30 mph or higher, made road traffic too dangerous. About 8 inches of new snow had fallen on parts of the Kansas City metro area as the sun rose Tuesday.
Flights in and out of Kansas City International Airport were canceled, schools, government offices and businesses across the region were closed. City buses were getting stuck.
Numerous accidents were reported in the area, and Mayor Sly James declared the emergency in an unwanted encore to a major snowstorm that dumped nearly a foot of snow on his city just five days earlier. He urged residents to stay home, given that the new storm was expected to dump nearly a foot of new snow on the city.
“This one has the potential to be quite serious,” James said.
In rural Kansas, blowing, wet snow forced truckers off the road and many had no idea when they’d be able to get going again. Robert Branscecum, a trucker from Campton, Ill., hauling Wal-Mart merchandise to Dallas, had been stuck at Beto Junction near Lebo since Monday evening.
“It’s hell, it’s straight hell. It’s snowing, blowing, drifting, everything,” Branscecum said. “The cars are stuck in the parking lot. Some of the trucks that tried to leave got stuck. I’m not leaving anytime soon.”
A strong low pressure system fueled the storm, which also included heavy rain and thunderstorms in eastern Oklahoma and Texas.
The storm knocked power out to tens of thousands of homes in Texas and Oklahoma and was blamed for the death of a 21-year-old man whose SUV hit an icy patch on Interstate 70 in northwestern Kansas and overturned Monday. A separate crash on I-70 in western Kansas killed a female passenger and injured three others after their pickup truck rolled on the ice Monday night. In Oklahoma, a person was killed after 15 inches of snow brought down part of a roof in the northwest town of Woodward.
“We urge everyone to avoid travel and be extremely cautious if you must be on the roads,” said Col. Ernest Garcia, superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol.
In the Texas Panhandle on Monday, strong wind gusts and heavy snow created whiteout conditions and made all roads impassable, said Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. A hurricane-force gust of 75 mph was recorded at the Amarillo, Texas, airport. The city saw the biggest snowfall total in Texas with 17 inches.
Motorists were stranded throughout the Texas Panhandle, with the NWS in Lubbock reporting as many as 100 vehicles at a standstill on Interstate 27.
Schools and major highways in the Texas Panhandle remained closed for a second day Tuesday. State officials said they hoped that stretches of Interstate 40 near the Oklahoma border, which have been closed since Monday morning, would reopen by Tuesday afternoon. Whiteout conditions further impeded efforts to clear roads of more than a foot of snow in western Oklahoma early Tuesday.
Texas Tech’s men’s basketball team stayed overnight at a hotel in Manhattan, Kan., after playing Kansas State on Monday night, rather try to drive back to Lubbock. Also late Monday, officials with Oklahoma State University announced it would be closed Tuesday due to the weather.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter Monday night in Woodward, Okla., for stranded travelers and told volunteers in Kansas City to be prepared to help those without power and stranded travelers.
Area hospitals closed outpatient and urgent care centers, and the University of Missouri canceled classes for Tuesday. The Missouri Department of Transportation issued a “no travel” advisory asking people to stay off affected highways except in case of a dire emergency.
Meteorologist Mike Umscheid of the National Weather Service office in Dodge City, Kan., said this latest storm combined with the storm last week will help alleviate the drought conditions that have plagued farmers and ranchers across the Midwest, and could be especially helpful to the winter wheat crop planted last fall.
But getting two back-to-back storms of this magnitude doesn’t mean the drought is finished.
“If we get one more storm like this with widespread 2 inches of moisture, we will continue to chip away at the drought, but to claim the drought is over or ending is way too premature,” Umscheid said.