‘Crippling’ winter storm bearing down on Great Plains region, forecasters say

Posted at 8:43 AM, Feb 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-25 08:43:45-05

By Chelsea J. Carter and Greg Botelho

(CNN) — Just days after a storm walloped the Great Plains, a second one, bringing with it heavy snow and strong winds, was slamming the region Monday, forcing airline cancellations and school closures from Colorado to Texas.

The storm was bringing potentially “life threatening” and “crippling” blizzard conditions with freezing temperatures to portions of south Kansas, northwest Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle overnight, and will move into eastern Kansas and northern and western Missouri, the National Weather Service said.

All flights in and out of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport in Texas were canceled until noon on Monday.

“Nothing coming in or out until then at the earliest,” airport spokesman Daryl Ware said.

A number of schools districts, senior centers and churches were closed in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle until at least Tuesday, while some state and local offices were also being temporarily shuttered.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s Troop I, which covers most of the state’s panhandle, said on its website Monday that it was in the process of closing all highways in the region.

Fearing a repeat of last week’s storm that brought more than 22 inches of snow to some places in Kansas, shutting down airports and schools, the governor on Sunday extended a state of emergency declaration to include the new storm.

Kansas City is expecting 9 to 15 inches of snow Monday night into Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, and officials are calling for residents to stay off the roads.

“This storm has the potential to be more dangerous than last week’s storm,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said late Sunday. “So, we ask you to stay off the road unless it’s absolutely critical. If you have to be out, be prepared with a charged cell phone, an emergency kit with food, water, blankets, flares and a shovel.”

‘Call it a win’

Such forecasts raised alarms throughout the Plains, leading to crowded stores as residents prepared.

Amanda Roberts, an entrepreneur and blogger in Warrensburg, Missouri, went to the stores ahead of the storm, which is expected to start hitting the state by late Monday.

“The snow has everyone stocking up on groceries,” she said in a Twitter post. “Fresh produce is basically gone, but I got the last gallon of chocolate milk. I call it a win.”

Forecasters have upped their predictions for the amount of snow expected in northwest Oklahoma to 8 to 10 inches, with 15 inches in spots. This may be a shock to some, given that temperatures in places reached the mid-60s on Sunday.

“May see 4-6 foot drifts!” wrote National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith on Twitter. “Traveling is beyond discouraged!”

As the storm hit the southwest, authorities closed portions of westbound Interstate 40 from outside from Amarillo to Albuquerque, New Mexico, because of blizzard conditions.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, meanwhile, closed portions of U.S. Highways 87 and 187 because of whiteout conditions expected to continue through Monday afternoon.

Salt truck drivers were on standby overnight in Oklahoma City.

“Well, we’re pretty well prepared right now. We have 28 trucks loaded, plows on,” Oklahoma City Emergency Management’s Mike Love told CNN affiliate KWTV.

“We run our emergency snow route. We’ll run that until it’s free and clear. And if this stuff comes in like they’re saying tomorrow, with these high winds, look forward to some drifting.”

By early Monday, with more than 9 inches of snow reported in some areas of Denver, airlines in the Colorado capital were working to return to normal operations a day after more than 200 of 1,500 flights had been canceled and hundreds more flights were delayed because of the weather, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Up to 19 inches of snow was reported in Jefferson, about 70 miles southwest of Denver.

Rain, flooding the issue in Southeast

While millions will see snow — including Chicago, where 3 to 5 inches of snow and sleet are expected Tuesday — rain may rule for the next few days in parts of the Southeast.

In Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast, residents prepared for the possibility of heavy rain and wind gusts as strong as 30 mph by Monday night.

The rain is part of a band affecting five Southeastern states where flash flood watches are in effect from Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.

Some areas from Louisiana to South Carolina could see up to 4 inches of rain.

Record-setting February

Kansas City International Airport set a February 21 record of 9 inches of snow, 4 more inches than the amount that fell the same date in 2010. Monday might bring 6 to 10 more inches, forecasters said.

Kansas City is approaching its February snowfall record of 20.7 inches, set in 1960.

In Kansas, Wichita saw its second-highest storm snowfall total on record last week with 14.2 inches over two days, the National Weather Service said.

The town of Russell in the state’s middle lay under a 22-inch layer of white by the time the storm moved off.

CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton, Brad Lendon and Judson Jones contributed to this report.

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