By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb 25 (Reuters) - A potent winter storm bore down on the U.S. southern Plains on Monday, dumping more than a foot of snow and creating blizzard conditions in Oklahoma, Texas and parts of Kansas still digging out from a winter storm last week.
Interstate and smaller highways in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of Kansas were closed by the heavy and drifting snow that cut visibility and forced flight cancellations at airports across the region.
The storm was slowly moving out of Texas Monday afternoon, while residents of Kansas City in turn were preparing for a foot or more of snow into Tuesday.
Some 17 inches of snow fell near Amarillo, Texas, according to the National Weather Service. Other areas in the Texas panhandle reported more than a foot of snow and Texas Governor Rick Perry activated Texas Military Forces to be ready to respond to calls for assistance.
Amarillo could break the all time record for the amount of snow in one day of just over 18 inches set in 1934, said Kristin Scotten of the National Weather Service Amarillo.
Airports in Amarillo and in Lubbock, Texas, were closed and Interstate 27 between the cities was shut because of blowing snow, state officials said. Wind gusts of 75 miles per hour (120.7 km) were clocked at the Amarillo airport.
Tyson Foods Inc said its Amarillo beef plant was closed on Monday because of the storm. Also, USDA officials in Amarillo were working from home.
Visibility was near zero on some roads around Amarillo, said Paul Braun, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman.
“I am hearing that we have a lot of vehicles that are stalled in the main lanes of our roadways and they can’t be seen because of the blowing snow,” Braun said.
Texas State Trooper Gabriel Medrano said the snow was too deep to measure in Lubbock.
“We are having a lot of problems getting our troopers to these crash scenes,” Medrano said. “Our troopers are getting stuck out there.”
A state of emergency was declared for 56 of 77 counties with northwest Oklahoma hit hardest in the storm. All highways in the Oklahoma panhandle were closed because of blizzard conditions.
Parts of northwestern Oklahoma could get 16 inches (40.6 cm) to 24 inches (60.9 cm) of snow, with high winds creating drifts up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) high, the National Weather Service said.
“It’s the biggest in the last several years, really,” said James Hand, emergency management director in the small town of Mooreland. “Last year, we didn’t have anything to shovel.”
Fifteen motorists were stranded around throughout northwest region on Monday where 3-foot high snow drifts blocked roads, awaiting rescue crews with tractors and graders, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said.
“We’ve got lots of folks stranded because people are just driving around the road closing signs,” Randolph said, adding that near whiteout conditions led to multiple crashes.
Kansas, hit by a foot or more of snow in spots last week, braced for possible worse conditions on Monday and Tuesday.
Numerous highways were closed in southwest Kansas by late morning and Kansas National Guard troops were standing by to help motorists, officials said.
“It’s getting old real fast,” said Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Michael Racy, who said highways were littered with cars and semi-trucks that slid into ditches.
Flights were halted on Monday at Wichita, Kansas, Mid-Continent Airport. Schools in Wichita and many other districts in central and western Kansas were closed. State offices in central and western Kansas also were closed.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback urged people in the path of the storm to postpone travel plans.
Last week, about 200 miles of Interstate 70 in Kansas were closed because of the massive winter storm that dumped well over a foot of snow in parts of the state. Winds are forecast in the 25 mph (40.2 kph) to 40 mph (64.4 kph) range.
In the Kansas City area, which was hit hard in last week’s storm, bread aisles at area grocers were nearly bare and snow shovels and other equipment was flying off store shelves.
A Home Depot in Overland Park, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb, received 300 snow shovels Sunday night and nearly all were sold within an hour after the store opened Monday, a manager said.
Parts of western Missouri were expecting a foot or more of snow into Tuesday morning. The storm was forecast to drop nearly 10 inches of snow on eastern Missouri and slightly less on western Illinois after that.
Major thunderstorms followed by heavy snow was forecast for northwest Arkansas, said the National Weather Service, which issued a tornado watch for a small stretch of southern Arkansas, most of Louisiana and parts of western Mississippi.
The same storm blanketed eastern Colorado with snow on Sunday, prompting the cancellation of 200 flights in and out of Denver International Airport.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper ordered all non-essential state personnel to report to work two hours later than scheduled on Monday to give Denver snow plow drivers more time to clear city streets.