Storm Q, as it was named by meteorologists, dumped 9 inches of snow in Manhattan and as much as 16 inches at some Kansas locations, closing a 230-mile stretch of I-70 Thursday before heading east.
The winter storm, which hit the Manhattan area as many drivers were on the way to work, affected their morning commute drastically.
Matthew Droge, public information officer for the Riley County Police Department, said officers assisted 37 motorists Thursday for issues such as slide-offs and getting stuck in the snow. There were 11 reported accidents.
Droge said none of the accidents were major or required transport to the hospital. The majority he said, were due to slide-off from slick roads.
He attributed the low number of incidents to people staying indoors and driving at lower speeds, as well as to the long hours worked by the city and KDOT crews.
“A lot happened yesterday,” said Kimberly Qualls, Kansas Department of Transportation Public Affairs manager. “The storm dumped 1- to 3-inches of snow per hour causing blizzard-like conditions and limited visibility, creating chaos for drivers who had to venture out.”
Qualls said crews were unable to keep up with the storm during the morning hours. “We were seeing as many as 10 cars stuck trying to get up or down ramps,” she said. “It was a brutal storm for those who had to drive through it.”
State climatologist Mary Knapp said Manhattan received 9 inches of snow. That was enough to shut down most activities here, but it was by no means the largest total in the state. Knapp said the community of Peck south of Wichita received 14.7 inches and Mullinville in southwest Kansas received 16 inches. That was the highest recorded amount in the state.
Experts were still consulting their record logs Friday morning to determine the last time a storm caused a greater snowfall in this area, but there was general agreement it had been several years.
The bad weather prompted authorities to close portions of I-70 Thursday.
As a result of the storm, the governor declared a state of emergency and brought in the Kansas National Guard to make sure there were no stalled cars along the closed stretch of I70.
“It was the perfect combination storm,” Qualls said. “There are lots of miles between communities, especially in western Kansas, and despite that there was a great coordinated safety effort statewide.”
Qualls hoped that the sun along with traffic would help melt the remaining snow to clear roads by Friday afternoon. However, depending on temperatures and the melting process over the weekend, roads could easily turn to black ice. She said anyone who has to drive today and into the weekend should still exercise caution – even if the roads look safe – especially since there is another storm in the forecast, set to hit the area between Sunday and Monday.
“There is a chance of snow but it may not be as intense as yesterday’s storm,” Knapp said. “There is a 60-percent chance of snow by Monday at this time.”
Knapp advises people to be cautious in the aftermath of the storm and to be especially careful when shoveling snow since people tend to do too much too quickly. This type of behavior – especially for the elderly – can lead to heart attacks.
The last time a snowstorm shut down the city of Manhattan was in 2009, according to Knapp and the last time an ice storm did the same was in 2007, when portions of the city didn’t have power for more than a week.
“The big question is how much of the snow will we get cleaned up before the next round and will the next storm bring freezing rain,” Knapp said.