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Archive for Monday, March 9, 1998

LATE-WINTER STORM BLASTS AREA

March 9, 1998

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The storm dropped less snow than expected in Lawrence, but it still caused plenty of problems.

A ferocious late-winter storm Sunday left thousands of Lawrence residents without power and led to several accidents, including a 15-car pileup on Interstate 70 near Lecompton.

``It was pretty much of a mess out there,'' said Rob Kort, battalion chief for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical. ``The snow was kind of like pellets. It almost hurt when it hit your face.''

Most Lawrence and area schools will be closed today as a result of the storm.

Sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph whipped snow off rooftops and caused a transformer to fail, leaving an estimated 4,500 residents and businesses south of 15th Street and east of Massachusetts without power for part of the afternoon, said Mike Faler, general manager for community relations for KPL.

Several hundred customers in North Lawrence also were without power for about 45 minutes early Sunday morning, he said.

Although 4 to 8 inches of snow were originally predicted, Lawrence received about 3 inches, said Paul Frantz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka.

``Mainly, the precipitation fell out as liquid a little longer than what we thought,'' he said. ``It didn't change over (from rain to snow) as quick as what we thought.''

But north of Lawrence, parts of Jefferson County received 7 to 8 inches, he said.

A Jefferson County sheriff's dispatcher on Sunday afternoon said that no roads had been closed but that they were in poor condition.

In Lawrence, city streets fared relatively well, as crews were able to keep the snow from accumulating.

City crews started treating streets about 1:30 a.m. Sunday and were expected to continue working overnight Sunday, said Tom Orzulak, city street supervisor.

``We didn't get the snows that we were supposed to get,'' he said.

Emergency officials were called to several accidents in Douglas County throughout the day Sunday. No serious injuries were reported.

Sam Tunget, Lawrence, was listed in fair condition at Lawrence Memorial Hospital after being injured in an accident just after 2 a.m. about 11 miles east of Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10.

The vehicle Tunget was riding in lost control on ice, was struck by another vehicle and slid into a ditch, officials said.

Sunday afternoon near the Lecompton Interchange of the Kansas Turnpike, a pickup pulling a trailer apparently lost control and struck a guard rail, causing a 15-car pileup in the westbound lane of the highway about 2:30 p.m.

No injuries were reported, but the westbound lanes of the highway were closed for several minutes.

Local officials were called to nearly 30 noninjury accidents and six injury accidents in the city and county.

Conditions were expected to be partly sunny today, allowing some of the snow to melt, but low temperatures were expected to plummet to single digits tonight, Frantz said. Highs are only expected in the 20s on Tuesday.

Across Kansas

Bitter north winds of 20 to 35 mph pushed the snow into drifts 6-feet high in parts of northeast Kansas while cutting visibility to near zero.

Interstate 70 was shut down Sunday afternoon along a 60-mile stretch from Topeka west to Junction City, where some motorists waited in stranded vehicles for rescue, the Kansas Highway Patrol said.

Snow-packed pavement and near-blizzard conditions also forced the closing of U.S. 75 between Topeka and the Nebraska border, and the highway wasn't expected to reopen until today, officials said. Parts of other main roads through north-central and northeastern Kansas were also closed.

At least one Kansas traffic death was blamed on the storm, which began lumbering eastward from the Colorado border late Saturday afternoon.

Donna Martin, 45, of Clay Center was killed Saturday evening when her 15-year-old son lost control of their car on Kansas 15 about 30 miles south of Clay Center and hit an oncoming car, the patrol said.

Around the region

More than a foot of wind-driven snow paralyzed travel across the central Plains and Midwest on Sunday, filling roadside motels with idled motorists and stranding others in their cars.

A 250-mile stretch of Interstate 80 across Nebraska was closed Sunday for a second day. Snow carried by 40 mph winds cut visibility nearly to zero in places, and drifts were reported up to 8-feet high in Des Moines, Iowa.

In Missouri, winter storm watches and warnings were in effect through Sunday night for northern and western sections of the state. Six to 12 inches of snow were expected across northern Missouri by today.

Numerous highways across northwest Missouri, including Interstates 29 and 35, were snow- or slush-covered Sunday, with travel down to one lane in spots. In southwest and central Missouri, heavy rain swelled rivers, prompting flood warnings.

-- Mike Dekker's phone message is 832-7187. His e-mail address is dekker@ljworld.com.

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