Great Plains Blizzard

December 20, 2011 by staff 

Great Plains BlizzardGreat Plains Blizzard, Fierce winds and snow that caused fatal accidents and closed highways in five states crawled deeper into the Great Plains early Tuesday, with forecasters warning that pre-holiday travel would be difficult if not impossible across the region. Hotels were filling up quickly along major roads from eastern New Mexico to Kansas, and nearly 100 rescue calls came in from drivers in the Texas Panhandle as blizzard conditions closed part of Interstate 40, a major east-west route, Monday night.

Travelers through Kansas scrambled to rearrange their plans, mid-trip. The Fairfield Inn in Hays booked three dozen-rooms in a mere 20 minutes Monday night, as drivers got off Interstate 70, the state’s main east-west route, earlier than planned. Greg Boughton, a hydrologist from Cheyenne, Wyo., and his family quit traveling in the afternoon after their SUV nearly slid into a ditch.

A trucker drives west toward a winter storm along I-70 near Topeka, Kan., Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. The interstate highway is closed in both directions in western Kansas.

“It wasn’t worth risking it,” he said Tuesday, as he, his wife and their two children prepared to get back on the road, heading east toward family in Tulsa.

About 10 inches of snow fell in western Kansas before dawn Tuesday and several more inches along with strong wind gusts were expected, National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Russell said.

“We’re talking about whiteout conditions,” he said.

Schools in Manhattan, Kan., canceled classes for the day, anticipating several inches of snow. Topeka was pelted by a cold rain, which was expected to turn to a wintry mix of light sleet and snow later in the day.

In Hays, some guests at the Fairfield Inn were extending their stays an extra day, said Randy Beck, who was working the front desk. To the west, a 70-mile stretch of I-70 was among the roads that remained closed Tuesday morning.

“Southwest Kansas is pretty much shut down completely,” said Derek Latham, a dispatcher for the Kansas Highway Patrol in Salina. “I have one trooper who almost went into a ditch this morning, and he came across four other cars that went into a ditch. That was just this morning.”

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