Lawrence's mild winter ended with a bang Thursday, as early-morning claps of "thundersnow" heralded a daylong storm that left a foot of snow on the ground, blocking roads, closing schools and canceling local activities.
City and county crews scrambled all day to clear roads made impassable by the snowfall, with many residential streets still unplowed late Thursday night. Portions of I-70 and other major roads were snowblocked. Area residents spent the day scraping and shoveling snow from their driveways and sidewalks — or rolling snowmen, sledding down hills or throwing snowballs.
Snow storm hits Lawrence
The predicted snow hit Lawrence Thursday morning leaving several inches on the ground before noon, with more on the way.
Lawrence schools and Kansas University were closed Thursday and canceled classes again Friday, joining many other local school districts, organizations and activities in taking a couple of snow days. Many activities in Lawrence were canceled or postponed. (For a full list of closings, see sidebar.)
The storm started just after midnight Wednesday with light snow overnight. By dawn, less than an inch had fallen.
But the booms of rare "thundersnow" — thunder accompanied by snow rather than rain — about 6:30 a.m. signaled that the storm's big guns were on the way. Snow fell at a rate of as much as two inches an hour throughout the morning, leaving 8 to 10 inches on the ground across Lawrence and the surrounding area.
The snow tapered off in midday, but resumed in late afternoon, along with some freezing drizzle, adding another couple of inches to the accumulation totals. In all, most of Lawrence got about a foot of snow, according to the National Weather Service.
The wintry weather is going to continue, with sub-freezing temperatures on today and Saturday. Temperatures will rise into the low 40s on Sunday, but more snow and rain is in the forecast for Monday, according to the NWS.
It was the first major snowstorm in Lawrence in more than two years. It also dumped more snow in a single day than the city had seen since at least 1942.
Those who ventured out into the storm found a treacherous winter wonderland. By Thursday afternoon, stuck cars littered snowy Lawrence roads. Westbound lanes of I-70 between Hays and Salina and eastbound lanes between Goodland and Salina were closed because of the high number of accidents. Locally, the road over the Clinton Lake Dam was closed to traffic for several hours Thursday.
Douglas County emergency dispatchers sent medical and law enforcement personnel to numerous traffic and motorist assist calls, but there were no reports of serious injury accidents.
Still, the roads were an adventure. "Vehicles are getting stuck right and left," Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley said.
City crews expected to plow main streets through the night Thursday and start plowing residential streets between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Friday, according to a city news release. Crews were planning to continue plowing operations through Saturday, the release said.
The T, Lawrence’s bus service, was canceled Thursday but will start back up Friday morning at 10 a.m., the city said.
A few stranded drivers had the good fortune of running into Good Samaritans like Hy-Vee employee Nick Knipp. Along with three other Hy-Vee employees — Andrew Yochum, Mike Gowing and Keith Pearson — Knipp had been up since 6 a.m., snow shovel in hand, digging out cars on side streets and parking lots around the supermarket’s locations.
“This will be 14 today,” Knipp said, digging out a Nissan Versa around 1:30 p.m. at 22nd Street and Kasold Drive.
The men’s efforts weren’t organized by the store but were prompted by a sense of community.
“When we see people who need help, we help them out,” Knipp said.
He was tired from shoveling, but vowed to keep digging people out as long as he could.
“It’s just been one of those days,” he said leaning on his shovel as he sent the stuck car away.
Lawrence resident Susan Thomas, who took advantage of the break in the storm at midday to do some shopping at The Merc, 901 Iowa St., said the major roads she had been on so far had been plowed, but side streets still looked treacherous.
“If we didn’t have a four-wheel drive, we wouldn’t even think of trying it,” she said.
Thomas said she wanted to purchase water, eggs and snacks for her family.
“I have kids at home, so hopefully we’ll do some sledding and make some cookies,” she said.
On the street
The driving. You can do whatever you want out there. It’s like the Wild West.
Snow day plans
Sledding — and perhaps a bit of shoveling — was on the minds of customers at Cottin's Hardware and Rental, 1832 Massachusetts St. Cody Stratton, an employee at the store, said a steady stream of customers came to the store during the storm. He said the hardware store fortunately had received a fresh shipment of winter supplies earlier in the day.
Stratton said it seemed people perhaps had playing more than working on their minds at the moment.
"If anything, we may run out of sleds," Stratton said. "People are coming in for a lot of them. But we have a lot of snow shovels and ice melt."
Several other businesses remained open in Lawrence despite the snowfall, and a few brave souls were frequenting them.
“We’ve maybe had 20 people this morning,” said Zac Hamlin, front end customer service manager for The Merc. “This is as definitely as slow as I have seen it.”
Hamilin said he used his Jeep to take several employees from The Merc to their homes around 9 a.m. He said it did not take long for conditions to deteriorate.
“At 9 a.m. there were still quite a few people out,” said Hamlin, who said he’s lucky to live essentially across the street from The Merc. “By 10 a.m., most people had decided it was foolishness.”
Business as usual
One place where there’s no such thing as a snow day is Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where doctors, nurses and others who provide care can’t exactly work from home.
On days like Thursday, folks at the hospital band together to make sure they can get to work, said Janice Early, the hospital’s director of community relations.
One nurse with a four-wheel-drive vehicle volunteered to pick up any of her coworkers who couldn’t get themselves to the hospital or back home, Early said.
“We’re kind of more like a family, and people look out for each other,” Early said.
All the hospital’s nonessential services closed by noon Thursday, Early said, but all regularly scheduled doctors and nurses were on hand to offer all essential services. As of about noon there were about 90 patients in the hospital, Early said. If they were due to be discharged but couldn't make it home, they were able to stay longer.
That went for the staff, too: If they feared heading out on the roads, they could simply sleep at the hospital. Some staff already had done so Wednesday night.
“We have beds you can sleep in,” Early said. “We have a cafeteria to make food.”