Interstates reopening after Great Plains snowstorm

December 21, 2011 - 3:20 AM
Winter Weather

Lorenzo Garcia begins the daunting task of snow removal as he helps clear a driveway near Fleming and Harding streets in Garden City, Kan. on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2001 after more than a foot of snow fell on the region. A deadly storm that halted travel throughout the Great Plains weakened Tuesday as it headed east into Missouri and toward the Great Lakes, and officials reopened interstates in areas where motorists had been forced to adjust holiday plans mid-trip. (AP Photo/The Garden City Telegram, Laurie Sisk)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Holiday travelers were breathing a sigh of relief Wednesday after a snowstorm that shuttered interstates across the Great Plains moved out of the region, allowing crews to plow away snow drifts and free stranded motorists from roadside hotels.

The storm was blamed for at least two fatal car accidents as it crawled from eastern New Mexico and Colorado through the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas. The fierce winds and heavy snowfall closed several major roadways before weakening Tuesday as the weather moved into Missouri and toward the Great Lakes.

Authorities still were reporting snow drifts of up to 10 feet high in southeast Colorado, and Texas officials warned drivers to stay off the road in the Panhandle so crews would have a clear path to remove ice and snow. Some highways in the western half of the Oklahoma Panhandle remained closed early Wednesday, with transportation officials warning of hazardous conditions.

At least 40 people were stranded the Longhorn Motel on Main Street in Boise City, Okla., where manager Pedro Segovia said blowing snow had created drifts 2- and 3-feet high and closed the main road.

"Some people cannot even get out of their houses. There is too much snow," Segovia said Tuesday. "It's was blowing. We've got big piles. It's real bad."

Receptionist MaKenzee Grove sympathized with the 50 or so people stranded at the hotel where she works in Guymon, about 60 miles east of Boise City. She too spent Monday night there.

"I have this rinky-dink car that does not do well in this," Grove said. "If we wouldn't have had the wind, it wouldn't have been as bad. The winds ... made the drifts really bad."

A few guests traveling to Oklahoma City managed to leave Tuesday, but others would likely have to wait another night before all roads were clear, she said.

Officials reopened Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, and portions of Interstate 70 in western Kansas that had been closed Tuesday. New Mexico reopened a closed section of Interstate 25, the main route from Santa Fe to the Colorado line, after crews cleared drifts as high as 5 feet.

The storm dumped as much as 15 inches of snow as it hit parts of five states.

In Kansas, schools in Manhattan canceled classes Tuesday, anticipating several inches of snow. The National Weather Service reported later that 3 inches or less fell.

To the east, a cold rain pelted the Topeka area, turned into a mix of light sleet and snow without much accumulation and tapered off. Forecasters said the storm became less potent as it moved northeast toward the Great Lakes.

Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Gardner said the patrol dealt with dozens of accidents in which motorists slid off highways Tuesday morning.

"We had ice-covered roads, covered by snow packed on top," he said.

The late-autumn snowstorm lumbered into the region Monday, turning roads to ice and reducing visibility to zero. Many of the areas hit had enjoyed relatively balmy 60-degree temperatures just 24 hours earlier.

The storm was blamed for at least six deaths Monday, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in part of eastern New Mexico where blizzard-like conditions are rare, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van crashed on an icy road in eastern Colorado.

The Colorado Army National Guard said it rescued two stranded motorists early Tuesday in eastern Las Animas County, in the state's southeast corner, using a special vehicle designed to move on snow. Smaller highways in that area remained closed.

___

Associated Press writers Jeri Clausing in Albuquerque, N.M.; Matt Curry in Dallas; and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.