thundersnow 2013

The digging out begins

Updated: 2013-02-25T18:20:41Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

The Big Snow of 2013 slammed Kansas City like a thunderstorm.

It poured snow. Lightning even flashed.

In a matter of hours Thursday morning, parts of the area were deluged with a foot of snow.

At times snow fell at a rate of 3 inches an hour in some parts of the area. The heaviest covered the southern parts of the metro area with 12 inches of snow, while north of the river topped out around 8 inches.

Kansas City declared a state of emergency, as did many other municipalities.

Roads were blocked. Visibility at times near zero. Flights canceled at the airport. City buses running late, if not completely stuck. Ambulances sputtering around stranded cars.

Once the heavy snow ended around noon, plowing crews began to clear some paths around the stranded vehicles that had overwhelmed the region’s army of tow trucks.

Kansas City International Airport shut down at the height of the storm as hundreds of flights were canceled.

This is what happens when a massive low pressure front comes freezing out of the southern Rockies and hits bloated humid air rolling up from the Gulf. The combination struck with a magnitude unseen since the blizzard of 2011.

“This time we finally had the stronger upper level system with moisture in place,” National Weather Service meteorologist Spencer Mell said.

In its wake, the storm was expected to follow with light freezing drizzle and additional snow through Thursday night, with a chance of 1 to 2 more inches total.

Depending on how the final total turns out, Thursday’s storm will stand somewhere among the Top 5 since 1934, according to the National Weather Service. Since records have been kept at the downtown airport, the 11.8 inches that fell on Jan. 18, 1962, is the highest.

However, a snowfall report made from the Scarritt Building downtown on March 24, 1912, recorded 25 inches of snow — believed to be Kansas City’s largest snowstorm.

Thursday’s was plenty bad enough.

Transportation officials continued to issue strong cautions against driving overnight, and into today.

“With more snow and with the wind conditions, any roadway is suspect to have poor conditions,” said Barb Blue, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Temperatures are predicted to remain freezing and fall to around 10 degrees by tonight, followed by gradual warming through the weekend to a high of about 40 degrees Sunday.

The next possible storm may arrive Sunday night. The conditions it will bring remain uncertain, Mell said, but for now it appears it will be a mix of rain and snow that is unlikely to accumulate.

Road crews could use a break, if they can get it.

Kansas City’s 200 large snowplows struggled to keep pace with the accumulating snow on the city’s main streets, but were expected to run all night and throughout today and possibly into the weekend to get those streets cleared.

The tougher challenge confronted the smaller pickup trucks that Kansas City uses to plow a path down the middle of its residential streets.

Public Works Director Sherri McIntyre said the city had about 70 of those trucks, and they were able to hit only about 40 percent of the city’s streets by Thursday afternoon. They will resume plowing at 6 a.m. today and run 12-hour shifts until all residential streets are passable.

“It’s been a mess,” said Danny Rotert, spokesman for Mayor Sly James, whose own street in Columbus Park had not been plowed.

Thursday was no picnic for Kansas City’s buses, either. At one point late Thursday morning, about 60 of the metro’s 180 buses were stuck in the snow, and service was suspended at 1 p.m. By late Thursday afternoon, 20 buses were still stuck, and some had sustained property damage. But the system is expected to resume normal service today, spokeswoman Cindy Baker said.

Road conditions deteriorated quickly Thursday morning and remained hazardous into the night. Highway departments reported several closures throughout the day.

Kansas City police took dozens of reports of stranded motorists throughout the city.

“We’ve got people stuck and stranded all over the place,” said L.D. Clark, a police dispatch supervisor. “Our officers are getting stuck. Everybody’s getting stuck.”

Tow trucks couldn’t keep up.

“We are swamped. Just swamped,” said Nancy Corak, who with her husband, Chad, owns Budget Towing in Kansas City. “This is crazy. Some of our trucks can’t even get to the people, and people are even getting stuck when the snow plows go by them.”

Johnson County Med-Act ambulance service reported a 70 percent increase in the number of calls, trying to get to car crashes and falls and to help people who couldn’t get to the hospital on their own because of the roads.

Some ambulance crews told dispatchers they had to get out and walk to patients.

KCI was shut down from 10 a.m. throughout the day. More than 80 flights were canceled and about half that many were canceled for today.

Sixteen flights got out on time before 9 a.m. Thursday before snow overwhelmed runway crews. Easterly winds limited which runways the airport could use, making it harder to keep ahead of the snow, spokesman Joe McBride said.

The storm was severe enough to force many medical facilities to close.

Children’s Mercy Hospital closed all its urgent care centers, and outpatient clinics and same-day surgeries were limited to patients with confirmed appointments.

The hospital rented close to 500 hotel rooms near Hospital Hill so essential staff in emergency services could stay at work.

Today, all Children’s Mercy outpatient clinics and the College Boulevard Urgent Care center will be closed, but the same-day surgery center, Children’s Mercy Northland and the East Urgent Care center will be open.

The Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center announced Thursday evening that all of its locations would remain closed again today.

The University of Kansas Medical Center will be closed today but the University of Kansas Hospital and the University of Kansas Physicians will be open.

Several services of St. Luke’s Health System also are closed today. Call to be sure.

The plan was for business as usual at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and Truman Medical Centers.

The offices of cancer specialists at St. Luke’s on the Plaza, St. Luke’s South and St. Luke’s East will all be closed today. The status of other hospital programs that closed Thursday was unclear.

Many other businesses and government offices tried to help ease the trouble on the roads by closing offices Thursday.

Schools were closed, with most districts announcing their decision Wednesday evening in advance of the storm. Many districts Thursday night were already canceling classes for today.

Sporting events and music performances were impacted. The University of Missouri-Kansas City women’s basketball game scheduled for Thursday night was postponed until 1 p.m. today.

Thursday’s Harriman-Jewell performance by Cantus at the Folly Theater was postponed to a date still to be determined.

The Russian National Orchestra’s performance at the Lied Center in Lawrence was canceled.

The news wasn’t all bad. Crime, for the most part, took the day off.

Kansas City robbery detectives caught up on paperwork with few new calls from patrol officers, Sgt. Ron Legg said.

“They are dealing with stranded motorists and accidents and that’s about it,” Legg said.

The Star’s Robert A. Cronkleton, Matt Campbell, Lynn Horsley, Alan Bavley, Glenn E. Rice, Mará Rose Williams, Judy Thomas, Karen Dillon, Tony Rizzo, Glenn E. Rice, Christine Vendel and Eric Adler contributed to this report. To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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