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Deadly winter storm sweeps Great Plains; more snow, wind expected

December 20, 2011 |  8:25 am

Winter
A powerful winter storm blew across the Southwest and was moving over the Great Plains on Tuesday after dumping nearly a foot of snow in places, causing deadly accidents and closing highways in five states.

Weather forecasters are warning that the storm is likely to snarl holiday travel across the region. Hotels were filling up Tuesday along major roadways from eastern New Mexico to Kansas.

About 10 inches of snow had fallen in western Kansas before dawn  and several more inches — along with strong wind gusts — were expected, National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Burke in Dodge City, Kan., told The Times.

He said some light snow and flurries were expected Tuesday as the storm moves east.

“It’s moving into eastern Kansas, but it’s lost a lot of its uplift, which produces snow, and a lot of its moisture has already fallen out of it in the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles,” Burke said.

He said his office had one report of 13 inches of snow falling in rural northwest Kansas near Scott City, and several other foot-deep snow reports in a band stretching from Hays over to Wakeeney and Dighton, which lead to the closure of nearby I-70.

“For this time of December, it is a little unusual,” Burke said of the storm. “But we usually get one storm or two this big.”

The storm was blamed for at least six deaths Monday in the region, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in snowy eastern New Mexico, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van they were riding in crashed in icy eastern Colorado.

In addition, the storm may have also contributed to the crash of a single-engine plane headed from Georgia to Waco, Texas, Monday night near its destination. The crash killed all five people aboard, two of them children, authorities said.

In northern New Mexico, snow and ice shuttered all roads from Raton to the Texas and Oklahoma borders about 90 miles away, authorities said. Hotels in Clayton, N.M., just east of where the three states touch, were nearly full, according to the Associated Press.

While the storm took a toll on the region, it also had a bright side: bringing much needed moisture — first rain, then snow as temperatures dropped — to areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas decimated by a drought that has dragged on since summer 2010.

Burke said areas of southern Kansas that have been experiencing severe drought conditions reported having received a half-inch to 1-1/12 inches of rain and snow Monday.

“I don’t think it will end the drought, but it will help them,” he said. “When you get a rain followed by a snow, that snow will help the moisture stay in the ground.”

ALSO:

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: A truck driver heads west toward a winter storm along I-70 near Topeka, Kan., on Tuesday. The interstate is closed in both directions in western Kansas. Credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press.

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