By Betty Biggs
A near record-breaking blizzard engulfed the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma Panhandle, Eastern New Mexico and parts of Kansas on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 and will probably go down in those pages as the Worst Winter Storm to hit that region for close to 40 years. Heavy snow, accompanied by strong north winds bombarded that area all day and created a highly dangerous time for anyone who happened to be outside without protection from those elements. Measuring the depth of snow was next to impossible because the wind speed didn't allow the flakes to stay where they fell, but shoved them into drifts of varying heights throughout the day. Traffic throughout the area was gnarled and emergency crews battled climatic conditions in efforts to render aid to people caught in the risky elements.
Local emergency crews were not alone in meeting the needs of stranded motorists in the affected area for National Guard troops and high-profile vehicles were sent to help. This additional assistance was sent when authorities in Austin, received word that the National Weather Service had issued a blizzard warning for Amarillo and portions of the Panhandle to the west and north, winds of 25 to 30 mph, gusting to 50 mph, were expected. The weather service predicted snow accumulations of a half-foot to ten and a half feet in the area. Stories of the exact amount of snow that fell and the depth of the resulting drifts will be as varied as the people who experienced them and later tell the results. Road maintenance personnel directed their first efforts to clearing routes for emergency vehicles. All area schools and scheduled meetings in the area were canceled Monday. Most of them were also canceled on Tuesday, or delayed to start at a later-than-scheduled time.
The Department of Public Safety along with TXDOT (Texas Department of Transportation and local sheriffs’ offices and police departments with assistance provided by the National Guard, provided rides to approximately 32 people in the Potter, Randall and Armstrong counties, according to a DPS annoucement. National Guard was to work I-40 from Amarillo west and I-40 from Childress east. A Tuesday morning news release said I-40 was still closed from the Oklahoma state line to the New Mexico state line. Many secondary roads had not yet been addressed at the time of that release. Clean-up of those roads occurred on a priority basis. U.S. Highway 27 north and south of Amarillo were opened and unrestricted.
City crews for Panhandle focused their attention on clearing Main Street for traffic, and providing safe conditions for travel on other major streets.
Another business that posted weather warnings was the United States Postal Service who noted that after being closed all day Monday, many of their offices were expected to be open Tuesday, although some may have to delay openings due to the impact of the storm. More than 20 offices may remain closed Tuesday due to inaccessibility or power outages. About 28 offices in the area were closed Monday due to the extreme weather.
Many area residents will likely include other inconveniences in their remembrances of the storm, including a brief electrical power outage Monday morning. Cattlemen will also add the cold-but-necessary feeding of cattle during this, the usual annual time for arrival of baby calves, who like their mothers, must be protected from the extreme elements.
Last week's high temperature reached 59 degrees on Sunday before the record-setting blizzard with 17 inches of snow and hurricane force winds hit. Those winds died down Tuesday morning and left the region with clear skies and cold temperatures. The week's overnight low fell to 12 degrees on Monday night, Feb. 25. After that .8" of moisture fell in the Panhandle rain gauge. Winds stayed light Tuesday and skies remained very bright on the snow pack, as melting began on the wet snow which was nothing short of a blessing for farmers. By no means of seeing a repeat of blizzard conditions, a minor disturbance might bring a snow shower or two to the area overnight Tuesday, with only minimal accumulations expected and sunny skies will soon return.
How will this moisture affect the area farmers? Currently, they are wondering whether to plant cotton or grain sorghum because of price variances and soil-moisture requirements between the crops. Summing up the most recent reports received from area agriculture people, previous snows had dumped approximately 18 inches of moisture to the area, as much as 6-8 inches in some counties. Before activities due to the blizzard, producers were preparing fields for spring plantings and irrigating wheat, hoping to get more grazing from the crop. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued as most herds remained in fair to good condition.
Record books give notice to an upper level weather disturbance, bringing snow to parts of the central U.S. on Feb. 26, 1989 just one day after temperatures were in the 60s. Snowfall totals in Missouri ranged up to nine inches at Rolla. Those statistics were in sharp contrast to those a year earlier when eight cities in the central and western U.S. reported new record high temperatures for the date, including Lamoni, Iowa with a reading of 67 degrees. Temperatures in North Dakota were as warm as those in Florida.
In 1987, a slow-moving storm in the southwestern U.S. spread heavy snow from the southern and central Rockies into the Central High Plains Region. Totals in Colorado ranged up to 62 inches at Purgatory. Colorado Springs reported a February record of 14.8 inches of snow in 24 hours. Lander, Wy. received four inches in one hour, 13 inches in seven hours, and a record storm total of 28 inches. High winds created near blizzard conditions at Colorado Springs. Fairplay, Colo. reported 34 inches with drifts ten feet high.
Looking back even farther, 1910 records show parts of Washington State were in the midst of a storm which produced 129 inches of snow at Laconia between Feb. 24 and 28, a single storm record for the state. A series of storms which began on the Feb. 23, led to a deadly avalanche on the first of March. By late on the 28th, the snow had changed to rain, setting the stage for disaster.