The dry season came to an end last week when the county, along with most of the state, was hit with heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions from a pair of winter storms.

The dry season came to an end last week when the county, along with most of the state, was hit with heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions from a pair of winter storms.

“Crews are already out there pre-treating the highways where they can,” said Peter Carttar, assistant bureau chief in Construction and Maintenance for the Kansas Department of Transportation in a statement last Tuesday. “At this point we are doing our best to prep for the storm and when it hits we know we have done what we can to prepare and the rest is up to Mother Nature. Our guys are eager to get out there and they’ll do what they can to keep the roads clear.”

Snow began to fall late on Tuesday evening and into Thursday and as much as 14 inches of accumulation were reported in parts of the county. Heavy winds gusting up to 40 mph caused snow drifts 2-feet high or more in some areas.

Road conditions worsened throughout the day and caused closures along I-70 in eastern Kansas. U.S. 54 between Pratt and Minneola was closed for nearly two hours as officials urged motorists to avoid worsening road conditions.

National Guardsman from the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery in Dodge City and the 635th Regional Support Group in Hutchinson were dispatched to the road in humvees to patrol for stranded motorists during the closing.

“Having an early warning of the storm has helped reduce travel, but a number of people are still on the roads,” said Gov. Sam Brownback last Wednesday. “Road conditions are hazardous, so I urge everyone to just stay home and travel only if you absolutely must. If you don’t have to travel, don’t do it.”

Brownback also signed a Declaration of Disaster Emergency in anticipation of the storm.

Snow continued to fall through Thursday.

Warm temperatures through the weekend helped melt more than a foot of accumulated snowfall as county road crews and city maintenance workers salted, sanded and plowed streets in anticipation of the second storm, which hit the county early Monday morning.

Area supermarkets were bustling as residents took the advise of state officials and stocked up on groceries, bottled water, batteries and canned goods.

An employee at a local supermarket said it had been “busier than Christmas eve” on Monday as up to an additional 20 inches of snow were expected in south central Kansas, bringing with it wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour.

“Keep an eye on this storm system which has the potential to be more difficult than the last one because of strong winds, ice, and heavy snow accumulation,” said Brownback in a statement on Sunday.  “Be ready to change your travel plans if needed. Staying off the roads not only keeps you safe, but it also helps road crews do their jobs and allows emergency responders to get to their destination safer. But if you must travel take essentials with you to stay safe and inform others of where you are going and when you expect to arrive.”

USD 422 and USD 474 canceled classes, and city and county officials closed their offices in anticipation of the storm.

State officials closed executive branch offices across the state including Kiowa, Ford, Comanche, Edwards, Kingman and Pratt Counties and state emergency management officials opened the Emergency Operations Center on Sunday in Topeka to monitor the storm.

KDOT officials closed a stretch of U.S. 183, from the Kansas-Oklahoma border to the Kiowa-Edwards County line when whiteout conditions caused low visibility as the storm rolled across western Kansas on Monday morning.

KDOT also closed U.S. 54 west of Liberal mid-day as visibility was reduced to less than a quarter mile.

At noon on Monday Gov. Brownback advised Kansans to “take the storm seriously.”

Two storm-related fatalities have been reported, both were car crashes on I-70.

The first, a collision in Sherman County at 9 a.m. on Monday morning killed one driver and the second fatality occurred when a pick up truck hit an ice patch and rolled over at the 151-mile marker in Ellis County.

The storm is reported to have met estimates, with parts of the county receiving 12-14 inches of accumulation. 

More than 20 south central counties were without power on Tuesday morning as crews worked as restoring power to more than 20,000 customers statewide.

Meteorologists at are predicting more of these types of storms over the next month, as atmospheric conditions are ideal for heavy snowfall and late-season blizzards due to “blocking”

“Blocking occurs when warm air masses associated with large areas of high pressure become anchored across Greenland or eastern Canada,” said AccuWeather Chief Forecaster Elliot Abrams. “Cold arctic air is forced southward into the U.S. in this pattern.

This pattern can slow storms, causing them to drop more snow.

“A blocking pattern can allow storms to drop very heavy snow amounts in the winter and we predict it last through as least the first two weeks of March," said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok. “This means that more storms will have the potential to slow down and produce heavy snow.”

While both storms have caused road and travel headaches, farmers in the area likely welcome a change from the persistent drought conditions. 

Statistics compiled by the K-State Research and Extension office reported an average annual precipitation of 16.5 inches, 25 inches and 19.5 inches in 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively.

Accumulated snowfall from the storms last week has already exceeded previous year totals.

“It’s not going to make a big dent in the ground water levels,” said Kiowa County K-State Extension agent Barrett Smith. “That takes lots of rain over extended periods of time. It will probably help farmers reduce early season irrigation and pre-irrigation though. But no question it’s a godsend for the wheat. The snow will protect it from a cold snap and keep it from getting started too early.”