2nd blizzard in less than week slams Plains region

Associated Press
A pedestrian walks through the campus of Phillips Academy during a winter storm in Andover, Mass. Tuesday, March 19, 2013.  Winter went out with a blast in the Northeast on Tuesday, snow and sleet closing schools in some areas and making roads an icy, slippery mess a day before spring starts. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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A pedestrian walks through the campus of Phillips Academy during a winter storm in Andover, Mass. Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Winter went out with a blast in the Northeast on Tuesday, snow and sleet closing schools in some areas and making roads an icy, slippery mess a day before spring starts. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Blizzard conditions again descended on the midsection of the country Monday, bringing hurricane-force winds to the Texas Panhandle, closing highways in Texas and Oklahoma and putting already snow-covered parts of Kansas on high alert as the day progressed.

National Weather Service officials issued blizzard warnings and watches in Kansas and Oklahoma through late Monday. As the storm tracks north and east across West Texas toward Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.

A strong low pressure system is feeding the wintry beast, Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said.

"The more intense the low, the stronger the storm as far as pulling air in," he said. "That's what gives us the high winds."

But because not all of the region's temperatures were below freezing, heavy rain and thunderstorms pelted eastern Oklahoma and Texas. Six counties in Arkansas and all parishes in Louisiana are under a tornado watch until 8 p.m. CST.

"March is the time we see intense winter storms in the Plains," Carbin said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy said the system is moving east at 25 mph.

Parts of Colorado and New Mexico were left to dig out from the storm after it passed through Sunday. Up to 10 inches fell in parts of New Mexico, and the foothills west of Denver saw up to two feet of snow.

The moisture should help improve Denver athletic fields, which have been temporarily closed to protect the drought-damaged grass. It allowed the U.S. Forest Service to burn brush in northern Colorado to try to prevent future wildfires.

Colorado isn't the only state in the storm's way thirsting for moisture.

"Is it a drought buster? Absolutely not," Murphy said. "Will it bring short-term improvement? Yes." Climatologists say 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.

In the Texas Panhandle, wind gusts up to 65 mph and heavy snow had made all roads impassable and created whiteout conditions, Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said. The airport in Amarillo, Texas, has recorded hurricane-force gusts of 75 mph. And state troopers are unable to respond to calls for assistance.

"It's just a good day to stay home," Braun said. "This is one of the worst ones we've had for a while."

Texas rancher Jay O'Brien warned the storm could be deadly for grazing cattle, including some calves born in recent days. The wind will push animals into a fenced corner where they could suffocate from the drifts.

"This type of snow is a cattle killer," he said, noting that feedlot cattle can lose up to 40 pounds in a storm of this severity. The size of the nation's cattle herd is already at its lowest since 1952.

Amarillo could set a record for daily snowfall, Murphy said. The NWS in Amarillo said Monday afternoon the city had received about 16.9 inches. The daily record is 19.3 inches set in March 1934.

Oklahoma also was under a blizzard warning, and officials warned that travel would be especially dangerous through Tuesday morning in the Panhandle and counties along the Kansas border. Forecasters said up to 16 inches of snow could accumulate in some areas, with wind gusts reaching up to 55 mph.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb has declared a state of emergency for 56 Oklahoma counties, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed all highways in the state's Panhandle, citing slick roads and limited visibility.

Parts of Kansas are bracing for anywhere from 8 to 24 inches of snow, including the city of Wichita, where residents had barely recovered from last week's storm that dumped up to 18 inches.

Stephanie Happy, a stay-at-home mom, was putting bananas and salad fixings into her grocery cart Monday as the first flakes of snow began to fall in Belle Plaine, about 30 miles south of Wichita. Her two children, ages 16 and 14, were both home from school since classes were cancelled.

"It can be fun," she said.

In a pre-emptive move, Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James declared a state of emergency. The metropolitan area saw about 10 inches of snow last week, and an extra foot or more is forecast to fall starting Monday evening.

Back in Amarillo, truck driver Oscar Weubles had been at the Petro Truck Stop off a snowy Interstate 40 in Amarillo since 4 a.m. Monday. The parking lot for 18-wheelers was full.

Weubles, hauling dry grocery products from Missouri to California, said he's driven in bad weather before and wasn't fazed by Monday's conditions in Amarillo, which had closed I-40.

"I've been stranded in Laramie, Wyo., for three days," he said. "This ain't nothing."

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Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Jill Zeman Bleed and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., Dan Holtmeyer in Oklahoma City, Steve Paulson in Denver, Paul Davenport in Albuquerque, N.M., and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kan., contributed to this report.

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