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March 24, 2013

Snowstorm takes aim at Plains, Midwest

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An early spring snowstorm forced the cancellation of more than 100 flights at Denver International Airport and closed several roads Saturday as it moved eastward, dumping more than a foot of snow in some places.

The snow started falling around midnight in northeast Colorado and then moved into northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska.

Ten to 15 inches of snow had fallen by Saturday afternoon north of Interstate 70 in northwest Kansas and northeast Colorado, with another 1 to 2 inches expected in the area, said Ryan Husted, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Goodland, Kan., where 15 inches of snow had fallen.

The storm also dropped up to 7 inches of snow in southwestern Nebraska before tapering off Saturday afternoon, said David Pearson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service near Omaha, Neb.

“But the wind is really blowing, so visibility in those areas is still going to be pretty low,” Pearson said.

Husted said winds gusting at speeds of up to 45 mph were creating snow drifts of 2 to 3 feet in parts of Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

I-70 had been shut down Saturday from Denver to Colby, Kan., because of poor visibility. The northbound lanes of Interstate 25 also were closed south of Fort Collins, Colo., because of multiple accidents.

“It’s a mess here,” said Jerry Killingsworth, a National Weather Service meteorologist also based in Goodland, Kan. “Heavy, wet snow, tree limbs down.”

At the Goodland 24/7 truck stop, truckers milled around. With roads in the area closed, they are “just waiting,” said Samantha Lamb, the truck stop’s assistant manager.

“Our hotel across the street from us is pretty full,” Lamb said. “Our parking lot has a good 35, 40 trucks in it.”

As the system moved eastward, it threatened to inconvenience fans attending the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Kansas City.

Scott Blair, a meteorologist in Pleasant Hill, Mo., said light showers and drizzle began switching over to snow Saturday afternoon in Kansas City and western Missouri. The heaviest snowfall was expected overnight, with up to 6 inches forecast for the Kansas City metropolitan area.

“If people don’t need to be out driving tomorrow that would certainly be recommended,” he said.

Dan Gavitt, vice president of the NCAA men’s basketball championships, said teams and officials already are onsite and that no game delays are anticipated.

“This region routinely has winter snow and has the appropriate equipment and procedures to manage these winter conditions,” Gavitt said in a written statement. “We encourage fans planning to attend games to pay attention to the weather, use good judgment and follow any directions from local authorities regarding travel and weather.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams was nonplussed.

“It’s no distraction, unless the roof goes off, we’ll still be able to play and the whole bit like that,” Williams said.

Elsewhere, some churches and other organizations were calling off events. Among them, the final game of the Emporia State baseball series with Southwest Baptist was canceled.

Denver International Airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said about 106 flights have been canceled, many of which involved commuter jets headed to nearby destinations or to mountain towns.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said up to a foot of new snow in the mountains could create dangerous avalanche conditions.

Colorado State Patrol troopers also spent part of Saturday working a crash near Johnstown involving a tractor-trailer that burst into flames. An estimated 20 to 50 vehicles, including four tractor-trailers, crashed or slid off the roadway in the area. The patrol said several people were hospitalized, but no fatalities have been reported.

The system will move into Illinois and Indiana overnight and into Sunday.

Meteorologist Dan Smith with the National Weather Service in Lincoln, Ill., said snowstorms aren’t uncommon in early spring. The latest the area has seen snow, he said, was April 23, in 1910.

“One good thing about (the snowstorms) is it doesn’t matter how much you get, it usually doesn’t stick around too long because temperatures start to warm up pretty good,” he said.

Farther south, tornadoes were possible in Louisiana and Mississippi, while strong winds and low humidity could lead to forest fires and wildfires in parts of New Mexico and West Texas.

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