Updated Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 05:51 AM
Another blizzard bore down on the nation's midsection early Tuesday after lashing the Texas Panhandle with hurricane-force winds, closing highways and cutting power to thousands in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. At least two people were killed in the storm, and Midwesterners still digging out from last week's deep snowpack braced for more.
Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James declared a state of emergency, an unwanted encore just five days after a major snowstorm dumped nearly a foot of snow on his city. Flights in and out of Kansas City International Airport were canceled, schools, government offices and businesses across the region were closed and James urged residents to stay home if they could.
Up to 15 inches or more were forecast for parts of western Missouri, with a foot or more in Kansas City alone: "This one has the potential to be quite serious," James said.
A strong low pressure system fueled the storm, which also included heavy rain and thunderstorms in eastern Oklahoma and Texas. Six counties in Arkansas and all parishes in Louisiana were under a tornado watch through Monday night.
The storm knocked power out to thousands of homes in Texas and Oklahoma and was blamed for the death of a 21-year-old man whose SUV hit an icy patch on Interstate 70 in northwestern Kansas and overturned Monday. In Oklahoma, a person was killed after 15 inches of snow brought down part of a roof in the northwest town of Woodward.
In the Texas Panhandle, wind gusts up to 75 mph and heavy snow had made all roads impassable and created whiteout conditions, 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.
Motorists were stranded throughout the Texas Panhandle, with the NWS in Lubbock reporting as many as 100 vehicles at a standstill on Interstate 27.
Texas Tech's men's basketball team stayed overnight at a hotel in Manhattan, Kan., after playing Kansas State on Monday night, rather try to drive back to Lubbock. Also late Monday, officials with Oklahoma State University announced it would be closed Tuesday due to the weather.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter Monday night in Woodward, Okla., for any travelers who get stranded. It also told its volunteers and workers in Kansas City to be prepared to help in the case of power outages or large numbers of stranded travelers.
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.
Winds in excess of 30 mph were expected to cause whiteout conditions by early morning. There also was some concern that early rainfall could form a layer of ice beneath the snow, worsening driving conditions for those who dared the morning commute.
Greg Bolon, assistant Kansas City public works director, said the city's plow drivers had been working around the clock in 12-hour shifts since Wednesday and were bracing for several more days of extended schedules. City plows focused on arterial streets late Monday and early Tuesday.
Bolon asked local residents to be patient with plow drivers, even if they throw heavy snow back into already-shoveled driveways as they clear the streets. He said the long, often-thankless hours can take a toll on workers who are just doing what they're told.
"We're out there doing what we can to get streets open, and when people come out and shake their fists at you, it probably bothers you more mentally because you're doing what you're supposed to do," Bolon said.
He said supervisors were keeping an eye on drivers for signs of fatigue, but he thought most were doing fine because of 12-hour intervals between shifts.
National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Bowman in Pleasant Hill, Mo., said the most intense snow in the Kansas City area was expected from midnight to 6 a.m. Tuesday. Southern parts of the city and counties to the south were expected to see 10 to 12 inches of snow, he said, while the northern part of the city was looking at 6 to 10 inches.
Other weather outlets predicted well more than a foot of snow over a narrow swath of counties in Missouri, which Bowman said was possible but probably on the high side.
"The potential is there," he said. "We're probably being a little more conservative because you're getting into stuff that's never occurred before with that kind of snowfall. There is still some debate about whether we have enough instability to lead to that kind of accumulation."
Meteorologist Mike Umscheid of the National Weather Service office in Dodge City, Kan., said this latest storm combined with the storm last week will help alleviate the drought conditions that have plagued farmers and ranchers across the Midwest, and could be especially helpful to the winter wheat crop planted last fall.
But getting two back-to-back storms of this magnitude doesn't mean the drought is finished.
"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," Umscheid said.
Associated Press writers Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas, Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Jill Zeman Bleed and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., Daniel Holtmeyer in Oklahoma City, Steve Paulson in Denver, Paul Davenport in Albuquerque, N.M., and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kan., contributed to this report.
MICHAEL CIAGLO / AP
A pair of camels brave the blizzard conditions north of Palmer Lake, Colo. Sunday.
CLIFF GRASSMICK / AP
Jim Risner, left, gives his son, Kingston, 5, a push at North Boulder Park on Sunday.