LUBBOCK, Texas — Blizzard conditions slammed parts of the Midwest on Monday, forcing the closure of highways in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and sending public works crews scrambling for salt and sand anew just days after a massive storm blanketed the region with snow.
National Weather Service officials issued blizzard warnings and watches in Kansas and Oklahoma through late Monday as the storm packing snow and high winds tracked eastward across west Texas toward Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Forecasters warned of possible tornadoes in the Southeast.
Snow covered Amarillo, Texas, where forecasters said up to 18 inches could fall, accompanied by wind gusts up to 65 mph. Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said whiteout conditions and drifting snow had made all roads in the Texas Panhandle impassable. Authorities closed Interstate 40 from Amarillo to the Oklahoma state line and Interstate 27 from Lubbock to 60 miles beyond Amarillo.
"It's just a good day to stay home," Braun said. "This is one of the worst ones we've had for a while."
The weather service issued a blizzard warning for the Oklahoma Panhandle and counties along the Kansas border, warning that travel in the area would be "very dangerous" until Tuesday morning with near zero visibility and drifting snow.
Texas officials called in the National Guard to respond to emergency calls and help stranded motorists after Department of Public Safety troopers found roads impassable.
Billy Brown, a farmer in the town of Panhandle about 30 miles northeast of Amarillo, said the snow was coming down so hard that he could only see for about 100 feet and that it was forming drifts up to 3 feet deep. The whiteout forced all vehicles from the roads — even the snow plows, he said.
But he said he was hopeful the snow would bring some relief to the drought-stricken region.
"We have been super dry," Brown said.
A rancher in the Texas Panhandle, Jay O'Brien, warned that for cattle out grazing in pastures, including some calves born in recent days, the storm could prove deadly. The wind will push animals into in a fenced corner where they could suffocate from the moisture.
"This type of snow is a cattle killer," he said.
The size of the nation's cattle herd is already at its lowest since 1952, and cattle in feedlots can lose up to 40 pounds because of a storm like this, O'Brien said.
"That's a pretty serious blow and a very expensive event that will serious reduce the amount of available beef," he said.
In Oklahoma, forecasters said up to 16 inches of snow could accumulate in some areas, with wind gusts reaching up to 55 mph. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed all highways in the state's Panhandle, citing slick roads and limited visibility. Trooper Betsy Randolph said the patrol advised its non-essential personnel to stay home until Wednesday.
About a dozen flights were canceled at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. The Chicago Department of Aviation reported normal operations at Midway and O'Hare — the bellwether air hub of the Midwest.
Steve Corfidi, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the storm also will affect southern states and could spawn tornadoes Tuesday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and Georgia.
Kerri Lewis, a convenience store manager in Woodward, Okla., said she expected to be snowed in, especially as most of the roads out of town were already closed.
"You can't hardly see across the street," Lewis said. "I'm pretty much stuck."
Announcing a snow emergency in Woodward County, Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer said almost two feet of snow was forecast for the area.
"Conditions are just treacherous right now," he said. "It's even dangerous for road-clearing crews to be out."
Several motorists were stranded but there have been no serious accidents, he added.
In Wichita, Kan., residents had barely recovered from last week's storm that dumped up to 18 inches of snow.
Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works, told The Wichita Eagle that the city's strategy might just be to plow snow into the center of arterial streets and cut traffic to one lane in each direction. He said the city wouldn't begin to use its already limited sand and salt supply until the snow stopped falling and plowing was under way.
Terry Rugkin, a social services supervisor, was collecting his mail from the post office in Belle Plaine, Kan., early Monday just as the first flakes of snow fell. Rugkin's office in Winfield was closed in anticipation of the latest winter blast, but his wife still had to go to work at a same-day surgery center in Wichita some 30 miles away. They booked her into a motel for two nights.
"We decided it was better to send her up there," Rugkin said.