Blizzard Batters US Heartland; Snowy Mess


(Photo Credit: AP video still via NDN)

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By Ed Payne, CNN

(CNN) — A brutal blizzard that has already whipped the southern Plains set its sights on Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, where it’s expected to dump more than a foot of snow Tuesday.

The powerful storm system is a second straight punch to the gut for a region hit by record snowfall a week ago.

“We are very concerned about this storm,” Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said Monday. “We believe it may be worse than the last one.”

He extended an early state of emergency as the storm approached.

Complicating matters are primary elections in nearly a quarter of the state’s 105 counties. State officials extended early voting hours into Monday evening to accommodate those who wanted to vote before snowflakes started to swirl.

Southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma got the storm’s worst overnight, spreading whiteout conditions along the state line.

In Wichita, students will be taking a fourth straight snow day. The city saw its second-highest storm snowfall total on record last week with 14.2 inches over two days.

The storm will bring up to 18 inches of snowfall to a long swath, including the Kansas City area, forcasters said.

Worst over in Southern Plains

As the storm muscled its way into Kansas, folks in Texas and Oklahoma were just starting to come to grips with the wintry aftermath.

Trucker Phillip Prince found himself stuck on Interstate 40 near Groom, Texas, for more than nine hours, munching on his dwindling supply of Lucky Charms.

Prince and his co-driver were due in California at 1 p.m. Tuesday, where they were going to drop off 25,000 pounds of frozen pizza.

But then they came upon, what the National Weather Service is calling, “a crippling, historic blizzard.”

“It was pretty nasty when we first got into it,” he said. “But then it turned into a whiteout.”

Prince, who has been a long-haul driver for nine years, said in a submission to CNN’s iReport he’s never seen it this bad. The line of trucks on the west-bound side was five to six miles long.

By Monday evening, though, conditions were improving in the Texas panhandle.

“Things have cleared up now,” said Julie Swift, a student at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview. “The snow is starting to melt and the roads are improving. It’s still very windy, though.”

Storm strands emergency crews

In Woodward, a town in northwest Oklahoma, firefighters were unable to reach a burning house because they ran into 4-foot snow drifts. The snowplow sent to dig them out also became stuck, Matt Lehenbauer, the director of Woodward, said Monday afternoon.

“At this point, we can’t keep ahead of snowfall rates,” he said. “Right now, the situation is pretty critical.”

At least six calls came in from other stranded motorists, he said.

Emergency crews had trouble reaching drivers who were caught on the roads, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Gabriel Medrano said. Cars were in ditches, he said, because drivers couldn’t tell where road ended and ditch began.

National Guard units were sent in to help stranded motorists.

Loads of snow

By late Monday, 15 inches of snow had fallen in Woodward, the most snow accumulation since 1971, the National Weather Service said.

The story was much the same 170 miles to the southwest in Amarillo, Texas, where 19 inches of snow had fallen — an all-time single day record for February, the weather service said. Monday’s accumulation also ranked as the second highest single-day snowfall accumulation ever recorded there, the agency said.

Jason Boyett in Amarillo posted a video showing near-whiteout conditions on Monday morning, and followed that with another showing a drift nearly 3 feet high outside his front door.

“We get high winds and we get big snowstorms, but they’re not often combined,” Boyett told CNN’s iReport.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb declared a state of emergency for 56 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

“This is a very serious winter storm and we want Oklahomans to stay safe,” he said.

Visibility was low in Fairview, Oklahoma, midway between the Panhandle and Oklahoma City, said Brandi Whitacre.

“Right now it is snowing so heavily I can barely see down our driveway, which is 100 yards or so. It is coming down,” said Whitacre, who added that’d she’d lost satellite TV service and was experiencing intermittent power outages.

While millions will see snow — including Chicago, where 3 to 7 inches of snow and sleet are expected by Wednesday morning — rain may rule for the next few days in parts of the Southeast.

In Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast, residents prepared for the possibility of heavy rain and wind gusts as strong as 30 mph early Tuesday.

The rain is part of a band affecting several Southern states where severe weather also was possible. Flood watches and warnings were in place from Louisiana to South Carolina.

— CNN’s Ric Ward, Janet DiGiacomo, Greg Botelho and Henry Hanks contributed to this report.

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