Plains, Midwest see 2nd round of heavy snow, wind

By Betsy Blaney

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 5:22 p.m. MST

Traffic moves on the I-40 service road Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. A blizzard packing 50 mph wind gusts and more than 11 inches of snow blasted Amarillo and Texas Panhandle Monday, making travel nearly impossible. Interstate 40 and many major highways in the Panhandle have been closed.

The Amarillo Globe News, Michael Schumacher, Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas — The nation's midsection again dealt with blizzard conditions Monday, the storm bringing hurricane-force winds to the Texas Panhandle, closing highways and knocking out power to thousands in Texas and Oklahoma.

Kansas, already under a deep snowpack from last week's snowstorm, was on high alert as the system headed north and east Monday evening and overnight. The storm is blamed in the death of a 21-year-old man whose SUV hit an icy patch on Interstate 70 in northwestern Kansas and overturned Monday.

Blizzard warnings were in effect for the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, as well as southern Kansas through early Tuesday morning, while Arkansas and Louisiana saw watches and warnings for severe thunderstorm and tornadoes. The storm is forecast to track north and east, prompting winter storm warnings for southern and eastern Kansas and the upper half of Missouri.

A strong low-pressure system is feeding the wintry beast, Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said.

"The more intense the low, the stronger the storm as far as pulling air in," he said, noting that intense winter storms are common in the Plains during late February and March.

Up to 10 inches of snow fell in parts of New Mexico and the foothills west of Denver saw up to two feet of snow. The moisture allowed the U.S. Forest Service to burn brush in northern Colorado to try to prevent future wildfires.

While the wintry precipitation is beneficial, the National Drought Mitigation Center said Monday, the drought is not over. Climatologists Mark Svoboda said 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain.

"Is it a drought-buster? Absolutely not," NWS meteorologist Victor Murphy said. "Will it bring short-term improvement? Yes."

Earlier Monday in the Texas Panhandle, wind gusts up to 75 mph and heavy snow had made all roads impassable and created whiteout conditions, Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said. A hurricane-force gust of 75 mph was recorded at the Amarillo, Texas, airport.

But by the late afternoon, Braun said conditions were improving and plowing was picking back up in the rural areas. Amarillo saw the biggest snowfall total in Texas with 17 inches, with Fritch seeing an inch less.

Motorists were stranded throughout the Texas Panhandle, with the NWS in Lubbock reporting as many as 100 vehicles at a standstill on Interstate 27.

Texas rancher Jay O'Brien warned the storm could be deadly for grazing cattle, including some calves born in recent days. The wind will push animals into a fenced corner where they could suffocate from the drifts.

"This type of snow is a cattle-killer," he said.

As many as 10,000 people lost power in Oklahoma, as did thousands more in Texas.

"It's been a good hour, nearly two," without power, Ann Smith, owner of the Standifer House Bed and Breakfast in Elk City, Okla., said late Monday afternoon. Smith's daughter and grandchildren had come over because they lost power.

"I have a gas cooking stove and got the oven going," she said, then laughed, "If it gets cold tonight, I guess we'll have to put pallets in the kitchen."

Oklahoma officials warned that travel would be especially dangerous through Tuesday morning in the Panhandle and counties along the Kansas border. Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb declared a state of emergency for 56 Oklahoma counties, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed all highways in the state's Panhandle, citing slick roads and limited visibility.

As of Monday afternoon, Woodward, Okla., had received 15 inches of snow, and Shattuck had 11.

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