KC takes shelter from the snow, braces for frigid temperatures

03/03/2014 10:49 AM

03/03/2014 10:49 AM

The year’s biggest winter deluge so far dumped a paralyzing blanket of snow across a city that mostly stayed safely indoors Tuesday.

But a trailing arctic air mass awaits our re-emergence with dangerously cold temperatures that could dive to 7 degrees below zero by Thursday morning with wind chills as low as 20 below, if current forecasts bear out.

So far, the winter storm has shown itself to be as brutal as predicted, with unofficial snowfall totals Tuesday night ranging from 7 inches in Lee’s Summit to 10 inches in Olathe and Leavenworth.

The fact that most people heeded warnings helped avert the kind of roadway disasters that stranded hundreds of motorists in a February storm a year ago.

Kansas City officials asked businesses in the city to stagger work hours Wednesday in order to spread out the morning rush hour in the aftermath of the snow storm.

“Rather than have everybody fishtailing along in one mass rush hour, what we’d rather do is spread it out so we can have additional trucks on the road,” Mayor Sly James said at an afternoon briefing Tuesday.

James and City Manager Troy Schulte suggested that businesses from 63rd Street south to the city limits open at 8 a.m., that businesses from the Missouri River south to 63rd Street open at 9 a.m. and that businesses north of the river open at 10 a.m.

“It’s a suggested approach, and we hope people will try to take advantage of it,” James said, adding that officials don’t expect 100 percent compliance.

The city’s plow crews began working in tandem Tuesday afternoon, with two plow crews moving down a street together, in order to better clear the roads in the face of strong winds. The city also will switch to tandem plowing in some residential areas.

James acknowledged that tandem plowing will mean the city will not be able to cover as much ground as quickly, but he urged people to be patient.

“This is not an easy job, and this is not a small city,” he said.

This year’s storm caused plenty of trouble. Police reported dozens of accidents. Highway patrols responded to numerous slide-offs and minor accidents, and two people died Tuesday in a traffic accident in Crawford County in southeast Kansas that was attributed to the weather.

Hospitals treated many people for fractures and sprains from falls and accidents. Most of the flights out of Kansas City International Airport that were scheduled to depart after noon were canceled.

A Southwest Airlines jet coming in from Denver got stuck in a snowdrift while taxiing to the gate at KCI on Tuesday evening. An airline spokesman said the 55 passengers on Flight 305 were bused safely to the terminal.

But considering that the thick, but fine, snow was at times blanketing the area at 1 to 2 inches an hour, most safety officials were thankful for all the traffic that was not on the roads.

Last year’s midmorning storm on Feb. 21 ambushed waves of motorists who either got out late or were trying to get back home ahead of that storm. The result: hundreds of people stuck in cars on area highways.

Lesson learned, at least for now, said Sgt. Collin Stosberg of the Missouri Highway Patrol. “This time, most folks stayed inside.”

It helped that many businesses let people work from home where possible. Municipalities closed city offices. County courthouses shut down. High school basketball games were postponed.

Retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters also either closed or limited hours.

The snow started falling Tuesday morning in the Kansas City area, deceptively light, until its full force came billowing up from central Kansas around noon.

It was a light, dry snow, which meant power lines were not jeopardized. But it was easily blown by an increasing wind through the day and night, making it more difficult for plow teams to keep roads clear.

Wind gusts that were expected to reach 25 mph and falling temperatures figured to keep road conditions potentially treacherous.

The fact that the storm didn’t gather its real strength until noon did allow enough time for voters in the Grain Valley School District to cast ballots in a special election on a bond issue.

Turnout during the morning hours was fairly steady, according to the Jackson County Election Board.

The warnings going forward continue to urge caution and discretion.

Safety officials discouraged travel again for Wednesday. Most school districts began announcing decisions Tuesday to cancel classes again on Wednesday, and several government offices and courts said they were opening late or closing altogether.

Both the executive and legislative branches of Kansas state government will be closed.

The University of Missouri campuses in Kansas City and Columbia are both closed, as are the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of emergency for the entire state.

The Kansas National Guard is deploying nine teams across the state, including out of Kansas City, Kan., and Mission, to transport emergency and medical personnel and to assist stranded motorists. The teams will deploy soldiers and Humvees. The operation will run through 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“The road conditions are just lousy,” said Lt. Ian Ingram of the Kansas Highway Patrol. “The plows are working, but they are struggling to keep up.”

Snowfall amounts varied widely across the state, with western Kansas receiving 3 to 6 inches and southeast Kansas 1 to 3 inches. Hutchinson in south central Kansas received 9 inches, and Mount Hope, between Hutchinson and Wichita, got 10 inches.

Stay tuned. The National Weather Service is watching a pair of weather fronts that might bring more snow Thursday and possibly again Saturday.

If you have to drive

Anyone who has to get on the road should continue to take precautions, safety officials said.

Make sure you can see, and that your car can be seen. Clear all windows of snow and ice. Also make sure headlights and signal lights are clear, and drive with your headlights on.

Have an ice scraper and shovel on board. Bring extra clothing and a blanket, and food and water. Sand or kitty litter can help with traction of you get stuck.

Buckle up. Do not rush. Increase the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle you are following.

Accelerate and brake gently. Pumping the brake pedal can help prevent a lock-wheel skid. If you begin to swerve, steer into the swerve — or in the direction you want to go.