Hazardous road conditions cause slide-offs

Jennifer Stultz
St. John driver Deane Ramirez slid off U.S. Highway 281 several miles north of Pratt on Wednesday morning because of snowy conditions. She was not injured in the accident. photo by Tonja Harrison

Two to three inches of wet snow created hazardous road conditions for many drivers in the Pratt area early Wednesday morning, and Pratt County EMS, Sheriff and Rescue crews were kept busy responding to calls for help.

A pair of rollover accidents occurred just minutes apart Wednesday morning as drivers on U.S. 281 hit slick spots both north and south of Pratt.

At 7:38 a.m., Juan Ortiz, 32 of Pratt, was southbound in a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee on south U.S. 281 at 20th Street, just two miles south of Pratt, when he lost control, crossed the center line, went into the east ditch and rolled one time, said Pratt County Sheriff Jimmy White.

Ortiz was wearing a seat belt, had no apparent injuries and refused EMS transport.

Just seven minutes later at 7:45 a.m., 30-year-old Deane Ramirez of St. John, was southbound in a 2005 Jeep Liberty on north U.S. 281 just south of 90th Street, nine miles north of Pratt, when she lost control, went across the center line and into the east ditch where the vehicle tipped over on the drivers side, White said.

Ramirez was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident, suffered no apparent injury and also refused EMS transport.

Pratt County Sheriff Jimmy White said there were also three slide-off incidents reported, including a truck with a 30-foot-trailer.

White said while there was not much snow, it did make the highways snow packed and extremely slick. The drivers in the accidents were not going extremely fast but they were going fast enough that when they hit the slick spots, they were unable to control their vehicles.

Both vehicles involved in the roll over accidents were manufactured by Jeep. White said that drivers with four-wheel-drive vehicles of any kind need to remember that four tires can hit slick spots on the road just like two-wheel-drive vehicles.

The rollover accidents and the truck and trailer were called into the Law Enforcement Center dispatch but the two other slide-offs were not. This creates a situation for law enforcement.

If a vehicle just slides off the road, someone should contact the LEC and let them know where the vehicle is located and that there are no injuries. That way, officers don't have to spend the time to check out the vehicle and they can focus on other events like the rollover accidents Wednesday morning.

"Calling really helps us out. They are doing us a huge favor when they call it in," White said.

Notifying dispatch could also save the vehicle owner some money. If a vehicle is found abandoned, an orange sticker is attached to the vehicle and if it is not removed within 48 hours, it will be towed at the owners expense.

"Call us and let us know," White said.

Pratt business commuter Tonja Harrison was out on the roads early Wednesday morning and passed one of the rollover accidents. She said she noticed that many cars were not driving with their lights on, even with the snow creating visibility conditions.

“People really need to turn on their lights in weather like this so oncoming traffic can see them,” Harrison said. “Wipers on, lights on! It's the law.”

The weather front that produced the snow in Pratt on Wednesday reached further west than anticipated by meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Dodge City, said Meteorologist and Lead Forecaster Bill Turner.

The slick road conditions are kind of ironic weather wise. When people hear a forecast for just a couple of inches of snow, they tend to think that it does not look that bad but in fact, vehicles are more prone to sliding off the road. But a heavier snow can actually improve traction, Turner said.

The weather system prompted the NWS to issue a winter weather advisory for Pratt and Barber County late on Tuesday but the snow actually reached further west into Greensburg and even Bucklin with about one to two inches of snow.

The weather system moved out of the area late Wednesday morning and the advisory was dropped, but not before big wet flakes dusted the area. As the temperatures rose through the afternoon, much of the snow melted quickly causing a slushy mess. The moisture was welcomed by many farmers in the area.

However, Turner warned that an arctic cold front will come through the southcentral Kansas over night and into Thursday morning. Air temperatures could get down to 12 degrees. It will be accompanied by winds from 10 mph to 20 mph that will produce wind chill factors as much as minus four degrees.