Winter Storm Travel Great Plains
December 20, 2011 by staff
Winter Storm Travel Great Plains, Fierce winds and snow that caused fatal road accidents and shuttered highways in five states, crawled deeper into the U.S. 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 roadways from eastern New Mexico to Kansas, and nearly 100 rescue calls came in from motorists in the Texas Panhandle as blizzard conditions forced closed part of Interstate 40, a major east-west route, Monday night.
About 25 centimetres of snow had fallen in western Kansas before dawn Tuesday, and more snow – along with strong wind gusts – were expected, National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Russell said.
“We’re talking about whiteout conditions,” he said.
The storm was blamed for at least six deaths Monday, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in part of eastern New Mexico where blizzard-like conditions are rare, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van crashed along an icy roadway in eastern Colorado.
Five people, including two children, were killed when a single-engine plane crashed in central Texas and authorities say weather may have played a role in the crash.
Ernest Contreras of the Texas Department of Public Safety says the crash happened Monday night just before 10 p.m. in a farming and ranching community in Brazos County. Everyone aboard the plane was killed.
Contreras says the flight originated in Atlanta, stopped in Jackson, Miss., and was headed for Waco, Texas, when it crashed.
Contreras says severe weather that had been moving through the area may have played a role in the crash but authorities were still investigating.
The late-autumn snowstorm lumbered into the region Monday, turning roads to ice and reducing visibility to zero. The conditions put state road crews on alert and had motorists taking refuge and early exits off major roads across the region.
In northern New Mexico, snow and ice shuttered all roads from Raton to the Texas and Oklahoma borders about 145 kilometres away. Hotels in Clayton, N.M., just east of where the three states touch, were nearly full.
Linda Pape, general manager of the Clayton Super 8 motel said it was packed with unhappy skiers who had been headed to lodges in Colorado and elsewhere in New Mexico.
“They lost a day or two of skiing, and they had budgeted an amount of money they were going to spend, and now they have to spend more staying somewhere else,” she said.
Pape said it’s not uncommon for skiers to get stuck in Clayton during the winter, and she keeps two freezers and a refrigerator stocked in case roads are closed.
“They are not happy, but we are not letting them go hungry,” she said.
Though some drivers were inconvenienced, farmers and meteorologists said the storm was bringing much needed moisture – first rain, then snow as temperatures dropped – to areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas that had been parched by a drought that started in the summer of 2010.
Virginia Kepley, 73, spent Monday afternoon baking pumpkin bread to give as Christmas gifts while snow fell on her farm near Ulysses, Kan.
“I decided to try to get as much done today in case the electricity goes off and I can’t make it tomorrow,” she said.
Kepley was grateful for the snow after some of her family’s wheat never got enough moisture to sprout last season. A new crop had been planted in the fall for harvest next summer.
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