Snowbound: Rare white Christmas brings frustrations, fun

Despite shovels, pushing and patience, the 6 inches of snow that fell on Lawrence overnight made Christmas Day 2009 a white one. For motorists, though, such as these stacked up at Ousdahl and 23rd streets, the whiteness wasn't exactly a dream come true.

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Ryan Schneider spent more than four hours in the car with his family Friday morning.

They weren’t traveling anywhere, though. They were stuck.

The four members of the family had attended midnight Mass at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway. After the service, which ended about 1 a.m. Friday, the family climbed back in the car and headed home. Mother Nature, though, had other plans.

The Toyota Camry that Schneider was driving made it as far as the intersection of Harvard Road and Plymouth Drive before it was impeded by the drifting, mounding snow. After multiple attempts to dislodge the vehicle and failed attempts by area towing companies to reach the car, the Schneiders settled in for Christmas morning in the car.

The Schneiders’ experience was not unique. Throughout the area, many drivers who underestimated the storm’s impact on driving conditions found themselves stranded if they ventured off plowed roadways.

The winter storm that rolled through the area Thursday night dumped more than 6 inches of snow on the city. It is the first snowfall on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in Lawrence in at least two decades.

Even with city crews working 12-hour shifts in an attempt to clear the streets, motorists had to push, pull and tow vehicles throughout the day and night.

Lawrence Police Sgt. Mark Warren said road conditions in Lawrence were better Friday than they were Thursday night, but still not good. He advised that people should stay home unless they absolutely had to drive.

“Even though the roads are better you’re still likely to get stuck,” Warren said. “Even streets that have been plowed have snow blowing onto them.”

Warren said most of the main streets around Lawrence were clear, but many of the side streets had still not been plowed. Warren spent a good portion of the day Friday helping drivers get out of the snow. The number of stranded motorists was difficult to determine.

“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” Warren said.

The roads were so bad that the city of Lawrence halted all service on its bus system and call-a-ride service for today.

Ed Bloodsworth from the KTKA weather department said that blowing and drifting snow will remain a threat through the day today. With temperatures in the teens and 20s and sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph with higher gusts, travel will remain very difficult and hazardous for much of the area. Drivers are urged to avoid traveling if possible as crews continue to clear roads.

Wind chills will remain in the single digits for most of northeast Kansas this weekend. Skies should begin to clear heading into Sunday, with more sunshine expected. However, temperatures will remain well below freezing, so no snowmelt is expected this weekend.

City officials were urging residents to stay home today. But if you have to leave your home, you might take a page from the Schneiders.

Schneider said his family loaded extra gloves and hats in their car, which turned out to be a good decision. They hunkered down in the vehicle for the night and turned the car on briefly to run the heater as they tried to stay warm and get some sleep.

Sometime between 5:30 and 6 a.m., a driver passing by spotted the stranded vehicle, rescued the family and invited them into his home.

Schneider said his family finally returned home from midnight Mass about 9:30 a.m.

For the Schneiders and many other Lawrence residents, this was a Christmas unlike any other in recent years.

“It’s one we’ll remember, for sure,” Schneider said.