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State Ag News
Friday, 22 February 2013 16:52
By The Hutchinson News
Whether you celebrated or bemoaned Wednesday's snowfall, it certainly made an impression. The News counted more than 65 business and event closures, as well as about 30 educational institutions shutting down today for inclement weather.
Kansas Highway Patrol and local law enforcement were busy with snow-related accidents, and the Hutchinson Police Department issued an emergency reporting system for collisions. Gov. Sam Brownback signed an emergency declaration for the entire state.
For 18-year-old Colten Dodge, though, the snow was just a chance to get out and have fun with his little sister. Dodge, a Hutchinson Community College student, went snowing with his sister, Caileigh Dodge, 13, off of the levee near 17th Avenue and Hendricks Street. He said it was the first time they've been able to take their sleds, which they've had for five or six years, out this winter.
Dressed in jeans, gloves and winter coats, the two strategized over the best way to get down the hill (standing up or cross-legged) on their two orange sleds. Caileigh Dodge said they'd likely be out sledding until "your legs are so cold you can't feel them."
Colten Dodge said he knew the snow was coming Wednesday and was looking forward to it.
"I was definitely hoping for above what they were predicting," he said. "I love snow."
It was the same for Austin Ketchum and Collin O'Neil, who were also sledding on the levee. The two were perhaps more competitive, though, as they jumped onto their sleds at the same time, going head first down the hill.
"I feel like a kid again," Ketchum teased, although he looked as if he enjoyed the opportunity to let loose with his friend.
"I woke up today, called him (O'Neil) and said, 'Let's go sledding.' "
Of course, the snow wasn't a chance for a play date for everyone. Wes Bartlett, co-owner of Bookends, 123 N. Main St., said he had to shovel the sidewalk outside of his business three times Wednesday. It didn't bother him too much, he said, as customer safety was definitely important to him. He said he expected to do the same thing today, as more snow was expected.
"I really shouldn't complain. We need the moisture," Bartlett said.
The National Weather Service predicted about 5 inches of new snow today, to complement the freezing drizzle from overnight Wednesday. Snowfall should stop before midnight Friday.
No snow is expected Friday or Saturday, but Tim Burke, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Dodge City office, said another storm system is expected to come through on Sunday or Monday.
"It's not nearly as strong, but it will be a snow producer," Burke said.
After wiping out on the hill, O'Neil had a piece of advice for sledders who want to brave the cold: "Bundle up."
The approximate snowfall totals as of 6 p.m. Wednesday:
Hutchinson: 2-3 inches
Medicine Lodge: 4 inches
Great Bend: 2 inches
Dodge City: 4.5 inches
Garden City: 3 inches
Newton: 2 inches
Liberal: 2 inches
Usually, Terry Faurot tries not to get excited - the forecasters' prediction for moisture often is never realized, it seems, on his Scott County farm.
Three years of drought have decimated crops across Kansas, and Faurot himself hasn't seen a decent rain on his fields since September. Just a few days ago, he analyzed his parched wheat crop with concern - it is turning brown from the drought.
Yet, as long-awaited snow fell from the sky Wednesday, Faurot had reason for optimism.
"The fastest way out of a drought is a good, wet snow that will soak into the ground," he said.
While more moisture is needed across the plains of Kansas to end the persistent dry spell, the snowstorm that hit a large swath of the state has been welcome relief in an economy dependent on agriculture. The Kansas Department of Agriculture estimates the cost of the 2012 drought at more than $3 billion in crop losses, from the loss of production and the price farmers would have received.
The 2011 drought cost Kansas roughly $1.8 billion.
Meanwhile, drought conditions continue to linger, with the entire state of Kansas still in some type of drought. More than 75 percent of the state is listed in extreme to exceptional conditions, the highest ranking by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Also, at the end of January, nearly 40 percent of the state's wheat crop was in poor or very poor condition, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.
As experts say, however, wheat can sustain through anything. Digging 2 inches down, Faurot found green growth on his thirsty wheat crop. Expecting 6 inches or more of snow to fall on his farm fields, he said anything would help - especially on fields that last year received just 5 to 6 inches of moisture.
He noted that he hoped the 20 mph winds he was experiencing on his farm wouldn't just blow the much-needed moisture into the ditches.
"I just hope it keeps coming," he said. "We could use a good snow. We sure do need it."
In Hutchinson, city street workers began pre-treating the arterial streets, bridges and highways with brine around 4 a.m. Wednesday, said Assistant Street Superintendent Gary LeClair. Then, around 8:45 a.m., eight salt spreaders began working the streets by spreading a mixture of salt and calcium chloride.
"In all likelihood," LeClair said, "we're going to be going virtually nonstop until sometime after the storm ends tomorrow afternoon or evening."
If there is a heavy accumulation of snow, they also break out the blades on road graders to keep intersections and driving lanes open, which was anticipated to happen possibly as early as Wednesday evening.
Don Brittain, Reno County's road and bridge superintendent, said his road crews began pre-treating 600 miles of paved county roads on Tuesday.
Some road workers were back on the job at 7 a.m. Wednesday, spreading salt and sand. Brittain said another shift would come on at noon and work until 10 p.m. Then the county would shut down the operation until the next shift came in at 3 a.m. and worked until 1 p.m. today. The shifts overlap from noon to 1 p.m. to allow for refueling trucks and for drivers to exchange information about trouble spots that may need extra attention.
The county is divided into four quadrants, with crews assigned to each quadrant and sand and salt stockpiled at satellite stations in each quadrant to minimize the need for trucks to drive back and forth between the Public Works building in South Hutchinson and wherever they are working on county roads.
Martin Miller, public affairs director for the South Central Kansas District of the Kansas Department of Transportation, also said crews pre-treated state highways with brine until late Tuesday night because the original forecast called for ice. "It turns out we didn't get the ice, but the brine still keeps the snow from adhering," Miller said.
With eight KDOT trucks dedicated to Reno County and two more Hutchinson-based trucks working K-96 in Sedgwick County, the crews began working again when the storm moved in about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Miller said. They'll continue working in 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
"It sounds like we will be out all night, all day tomorrow and tomorrow night," Miller said Wednesday. "We'll keep clearing until we have clear wheel paths on all the major roads. We haven't had bad weather up until now this winter, so we have plenty of supplies, salt and sand available."
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