A Potter County road grader works to clear parts of Indian Hills Road Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011 in Amarillo, Texas. Travelers in the Texas Panhandle were urged to stay off ice-packed roads Tuesday after up to 10 inches of snow covered parts of the region. Several major thoroughfares were closed after the storm clipped the far northwest part of the state the day before the official start of winter. (AP Photo/The Amarillo Globe-News, Michael Norris)
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Holiday travelers were breathing a sigh of relief Wednesday after a storm that dumped up to 15 inches of snow and forced the closure of interstates across the Great Plains moved out of the region, allowing crews to clear drifts and stranded motorists to leave roadside hotels.
The storm was blamed for at least two fatal car accidents as it crawled from eastern New Mexico and Colorado through the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas. The fierce winds and heavy snowfall closed several major roadways before weakening Tuesday and moving into Missouri and toward the Great Lakes.
But another storm threatened some of those areas hit earlier in the week, including the [auth] Rockies and parts of Wyoming, New Mexico and western Kansas. Those areas could see another round of snow and wind over the next few days, but it won’t be as heavy as the recent storm, according to meteorologist Brian Barjenbruch of the National Weather Service in Topeka, Kan.
“It’s tough to match what we had in some areas with this past storm,” he said early Wednesday.
Meanwhile, authorities still reported snow drifts of up to 10 feet high in southeast Colorado, and Texas officials warned drivers to stay off the road in the Panhandle so crews could remove ice and snow. Some highways in the western half of the Oklahoma Panhandle remained closed early Wednesday, with transportation officials warning of hazardous conditions.
At least 40 people were stranded at the Longhorn Motel in Boise City, Okla., where manager Pedro Segovia said blowing snow had created drifts 2- and 3-feet high and closed the main road.
“Some people cannot even get out of their houses. There is too much snow,” Segovia said Tuesday. “It was blowing. We’ve got big piles. It’s real bad.”
Receptionist MaKenzee Grove sympathized with the 50 or so people stranded at the hotel where she works in Guymon, about 60 miles east of Boise City.
“I have this rinky-dink car that does not do well in this,” Grove said. “If we wouldn’t have had the wind, it wouldn’t have been as bad. The winds … made the drifts really bad.”
A few guests traveling to Oklahoma City managed to leave Tuesday, but others were staying another night until all the roads were clear, she said.
Officials reopened Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, and portions of Interstate 70 in western Kansas that had been closed Tuesday. New Mexico reopened a closed section of Interstate 25, the main route from Santa Fe to the Colorado line, after crews cleared drifts as high as 5 feet.
In Kansas, schools in Manhattan canceled classes Tuesday, anticipating several inches of snow. The National Weather Service reported later that 3 inches or less fell.
To the east, a cold rain pelted the Topeka area, turned into a mix of light sleet and snow without much accumulation and tapered off. Forecasters said the storm became less potent as it moved northeast toward the Great Lakes.
Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Gardner said the patrol dealt with dozens of accidents in which motorists slid off highways Tuesday.
“We had ice-covered roads, covered by snow packed on top,” he said.
The late-autumn snowstorm lumbered into the region Monday, turning roads to ice and reducing visibility to zero. Many of the areas hit had enjoyed relatively balmy 60-degree temperatures just 24 hours earlier.
The storm was blamed for at least six deaths, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in part of eastern New Mexico where blizzard-like conditions are rare, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van crashed on an icy road in eastern Colorado.
The Colorado Army National Guard said it rescued two stranded motorists early Tuesday in eastern Las Animas County, in the state’s southeast corner, using a special vehicle designed to move on snow. Smaller highways in that area remained closed.
Associated Press writers Jeri Clausing in Albuquerque, N.M.; Matt Curry in Dallas; and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.