The second major snowstorm in a week battered the nation's midsection Tuesday.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The second major snowstorm in a week battered the nation's midsection Tuesday, dropping up to a foot or more of heavy, wet snow that strained power lines and cut electricity to more than 100,000 Midwesterners. At least three deaths were blamed on the blizzard. Gusting winds blew drifts more than 2 feet high and made driving treacherous for those who dared the morning commute.
About 105,000 homes and businesses in northwest Missouri, northeast Kansas and western Oklahoma were without power before noon as the snow weighed heavily on power lines and tree limbs. Up to 10 inches had fallen in and around Kansas City, Mo., before the snow tapered off before midday. Mayor Sly James declared a state of emergency as the city dealt with its second major snowstorm in less than a week.
Flights in and out of Kansas City International Airport began to resume Tuesday morning after many were canceled at the height of the storm, airport spokesman Joe McBride said. For a second straight week, school kids, government workers and others caught a break as most offices and buildings were closed across the region.
Area hospitals closed outpatient and urgent care centers, and the University of Missouri canceled classes for Tuesday. The Missouri Department of Transportation issued a "no travel" advisory, asking people to stay off affected highways except in case of a dire emergency. Even some of the state's own heavy-duty snow plows slid off into ditches, underlining the danger to others who were tempted to venture out.
Just west of Kansas City's Country Club Plaza in a neighborhood of aging apartment complexes, Matthew Meier found a large tree had uprooted and fallen onto the back of his 2002 Lincoln Town Car.
"I was completely sure I would find the tree trunk across the engine compartment," said Meier, 56. "But when I came outside I said, 'This doesn't look too bad at all.'"
In rural Kansas, blowing, wet snow forced truckers off the road and many had no idea when they would be able to get going again. Robert Branscecum, a trucker from Campton, Ill., hauling Wal-Mart merchandise to Dallas, had been stuck at Beto Junction near Lebo since Monday evening.
"It's hell, it's straight hell. It's snowing, blowing, drifting, everything," Branscecum said. "The cars are stuck in the parking lot. Some of the trucks that tried to leave got stuck. I'm not leaving anytime soon."
A strong low pressure system fueled the storm, which also deluged eastern Oklahoma and Texas with heavy rain and thunderstorms.
The storm knocked power out to tens of thousands of homes in Texas and Oklahoma and was blamed for the death of a two people killed in rollovers on Interstate 70 in Kansas Monday.
"We urge everyone to avoid travel and be extremely cautious if you must be on the roads," said Col. Ernest Garcia, superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol.
In Oklahoma, a person was killed after 15 inches of snow brought down part of a roof in the northwest town of Woodward. Heavy snow caused roofs to cave in at businesses in Belton and Warrensburg, Mo., where 13 inches of snow fell, police said.
Whiteout conditions made all roads impassable for a while on Monday in the Texas Panhandle, said Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. A hurricane-force gust of 75 mph was recorded at the Amarillo, Texas, airport. The city saw the biggest snowfall total in Texas with 17 inches.
Schools and major highways in the Texas Panhandle remained closed for a second day Tuesday. Interstate 27 reopened between snow-hammered Amarillo and Lubbock, about 120 miles to the south, but units with the Texas National Guard were still working to clear Interstate 40 from the Oklahoma border to the New Mexico state line. The interstate is open within Amarillo's city limits.
The second major storm in as many weeks sent locals scurrying for their shovels, frustrated and annoyed that one huge blizzard could so closely follow another.
Climate scientists can't say that man-made global warming is the cause of such individual extreme weather events, but they say that climate change in general makes them more likely because of what it does to the thermodynamics of the air and water. Warmer air in general holds more moisture and when temperatures dance around the freezing mark — cold enough to fall as snow, but warm enough to hold lots of moisture — the storms dump more snow, especially if part of the storm system has been over unusually warm ocean water.
Since 1960, much of the United States has had twice as many extreme snowstorms as it had in the 60 years before, according to a new study by top scientists that will soon appear in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. But global warming is also shortening the snow season, dramatically reducing spring snow in the Northern Hemisphere, the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University found.
"These storms didn't just occur in a vacuum. They are fueled by record amounts of moisture in the atmosphere," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said in an email Tuesday. "What is happening is that these storms are feeding on unusually warm oceans, including the 'noreaster 'Nemo' which fed off record warm sea surface temperatures off the U.S. East Coast, and the Midwestern storm now brewing, which is feeding on very warm Gulf of Mexico ocean surface temperatures."
Mann said the unusual warmth and moisture combine with cold air dipping down from the Arctic to produce heavy snow. He said some computer weather models predict the Midwestern storm may break a record for low-pressure, which is how meteorologists measure the strength of a storm.
The back-to-back storms have raised hopes that the moisture might ease the drought conditions that have gripped the Midwest for more than a year. The snowpack now resting on the plains will help, but it's no drought-buster, experts say.
"If we get one more storm like this with widespread 2 inches of moisture, we will continue to chip away at the drought, but to claim the drought is over or ending is way too premature," said meteorologist Mike Umscheid of the National Weather Service office in Dodge City, Kan.