A major winter storm threatened to bring blizzard conditions to parts of the central Plains Monday, sending public works crews scrambling for salt and sand again less than a week after record amounts of snow blanketed the region.
National Weather Service officials in Kansas and Oklahoma issued blizzard warnings and watches through late Monday. The storm system packing snow and high winds has been tracking eastward across western Texas toward Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. Forecasters also warned of possible tornadoes further southeast.
"We're expecting more wind with this storm," said Jeff Johnson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kan. "Snow amounts are varying, but we could see upward of a foot across south-central Kansas with lesser amounts across west-central and central Kansas."
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback amended a state of emergency declaration he signed last week to include the new weather.
"This storm has the potential to be more dangerous than last week's storm," Brownback said at a briefing late Sunday. The storm late last week dumped more than a foot of snow in some places, closing airports and leading to several deadly traffic accidents.
Brownback urged motorists to "stay off the road unless it's absolutely critical," adding that drivers who must travel should pack charged cellphones and emergency kits containing food, water, blankets, road flares and shovels.
"It would have been nice if we'd had a few days to recover, to do some equipment rehab," Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works in Wichita, Kan., told The Wichita Eagle. The city saw its second-highest snowfall Thursday with 14.2 inches.
The southern Kansas town of Zenda saw 18 inches of snow last week, there were 17 inches in Hays, Kan., about 13 inches in northeast Missouri and 12 inches in parts of Kansas City.
The weather service issued a blizzard warning for the Oklahoma Panhandle and counties along the Kansas border, warning that travel in the area would be "very dangerous" until Tuesday morning with near zero visibility and drifting snow, in particular near Interstate 40.
Forecasters said up to 16 inches of snow could accumulate in some areas, with wind gusts reaching up to 55 mph.
Matt Lehenbauer, emergency management director for Woodward County, Okla., told The Associated Press he was expecting whiteout conditions and that although there was plenty of salt and sand on hand to clear roads, delays were still likely.
"We may not get the roads cleared until midday Tuesday if we get the expected amount of snow and wind. As it's falling, in the blizzard-like conditions, we just won't be able to keep up," Lehenbauer said late Sunday.
Steve Corfidi, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the storm also will affect southern states and could spawn tornadoes Tuesday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and Georgia.
"It definitely will be one of the more significant events of the season, the winter season, absolutely," Corfidi told The Associated Press. "Both in winter weather and severe weather potential, and rain, down in the southeast United States."
By Monday morning, several inches of snow had fallen on much of West Texas and the Texas Panhandle, where forecasters predicted more than a foot could fall. While snowfall was expected to taper off by Monday afternoon, wind gusts of up to 35 mph would remain a hazard, said Sarah Johnson, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service's Amarillo, Texas, office.
Pajor told the Wichita newspaper that the new storm "looks worse than the last one" and warned that sand and salt supplies were low after the storm last week. He said it would be difficult to remove snow from all the city's streets and that city worker may need to plow snow into the center of arterial streets, and cut traffic to one lane each direction.
He said the city wouldn't begin to use its limited sand and salt supplies on the streets until the snow has stopped falling and plowing is under way.
No delays were reported early Monday for flights in and out of Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City and Tulsa International Airport, and Chicago's O'Hare — the bellwether air hub of the Midwest — reported no major upsets due to the weather so far.