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Archive for Saturday, March 2, 2002

Winter storms return

Forecasters expected 2 to 4 inches of snow

March 2, 2002

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Forget the amount of snow on the ground this morning. The problem will be blowing snow.

"Predicting an inch count for Lawrence is kind of insignificant," Steve Kays, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka, said Friday afternoon as area residents watched the skies for the latest winter storm.

"With the wind blowing and the drifting, it might seem like more snow," Kays said.

For the record, Kays expected from 2 to 4 inches of snow to be on the ground by this morning in Lawrence. The city's record snowfall for March 1, set in 1978, is 3 inches, said Wes Etheredge, meteorologist with WeatherData, a private forecasting service in Wichita. Average snowfall for Lawrence in March is 3.9 inches.

Heavier snow nearly a foot was expected to fall along the Nebraska border, Kays said.

And by early afternoon, if not sooner, the snowfall in the Lawrence area should be finished, Kays said.

Meteorologists early in the week predicted the winter storm would arrive in Lawrence late Thursday, Etheredge said. But by Thursday afternoon, most had adjusted their forecasts as it became apparent that wind and snow would not strike eastern Kansas until Friday evening. Flurries started coming down in Lawrence just after 6:30 p.m. Friday.

About 3 p.m., the National Weather Service placed Lawrence under a winter storm warning. It expires this morning.

The storm system that brought the overnight accumulation first moved down the west coast and through the desert southwest before arriving in the central plains mid-Friday, Etheredge said. As it passes through, it will leave a wake of frigid temperatures. Western Kansas towns were seeing single-digit lows Friday, Etheredge said.

Even if heavier-than-expected snow does fall in Lawrence, the city's bus service, better known as the T, will run today.

"The only way we would stop running is if (the buses) couldn't get down the street, and that would take a whole lot of snow," said Karen Rexroad, city transit administrator. "With their weight, they do pretty well in snow."

Aside from a few slide-offs on snow-slick roads, area authorities hadn't worked any serious weather-related accidents by late Friday.

Cold and blustery winds today will cause snow drifts and make it difficult to see on roads and highways, Kays said. Winds will be out of the north at 15 to 25 mph and gusting up to 40, he said.

Lawrence Public Works street maintenance workers were prepared to hit the streets as soon as the snow started falling, manager Tom Orzulak said. As the first two or three inches fell, the truck drivers were dumping salt and sand on the snow and then following with blading, if necessary, Orzulak said.

Contrary to what some people think, salt and sand allow vehicles to get more traction in smaller amounts of snow, Orzulak said.

"It's important to treat the streets first and give them some traction because it takes so long to plow all of the streets," Orzulak said.

Street crews planned to first clear the city's main thoroughfares, such as 23rd Street, Iowa Street and Wakarusa Drive. Busy secondary streets like Tennessee, Kentucky and Louisiana will be next. Residential roads will get attention last.

The street division's sand and salt stockpiles are still plentiful, despite the ice storm that hit the city in late January, Orzulak said.

At this point, there is no concern about overtime costs in paying street maintenance crews, said Lawrence City Manager Mike Wildgen.

"Except for a couple of peaks, it's really been a pretty mild winter," Wildgen said.

Today's high temperature will be in the 20s. By sunrise Sunday, the temperature will be about 6 degrees, the weather service predicted. High temperatures should return to the 40s by Monday.

No other major winter storms are expected in the foreseeable future, Kays said.

"March is always a transitional month and a very active month for weather," he said. "We could have blizzards in the western part of the state and tornadoes in another part of the state."

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