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.
Parts of Kansas are bracing for anywhere from 8 to 24 inches of snow — including the city of Wichita, where residents had barely recovered from last week's storm that dumped up to 18 inches.
Stephanie Happy, a stay-at-home mom, was putting bananas and salad fixings into her grocery cart Monday as the first flakes of snow began to fall in Belle Plaine, about 30 miles south of Wichita. Her two children, ages 16 and 14, were both home from school since classes were cancelled.
"It can be fun," she said.
In a pre-emptive move, Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James declared a state of emergency. The metropolitan area saw about 10 inches of snow last week, and an extra foot or more is forecast to fall starting Monday evening.
"This one has the potential to be quite serious," James said at a news conference.
Back in Amarillo, truck driver Oscar Weubles had been at the Petro Truck Stop off a snowy Interstate 40 in Amarillo since 4 a.m. Monday. The parking lot for 18-wheelers was full.
Weubles, hauling dry grocery products from Missouri to California, said he's driven in bad weather before and wasn't fazed by Monday's conditions in Amarillo, which had closed I-40.
"I've been stranded in Laramie, Wyo., for three days," he said. "This ain't nothing."
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Jill Zeman Bleed and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., Dan Holtmeyer in Oklahoma City, Steve Paulson in Denver, Paul Davenport in Albuquerque, N.M., and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kan., contributed to this report.
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