February 26, 2013

2nd major snowstorm paralyzes parts of Midwest

More than 100,000 homes and businesses lose electricity, and at least three deaths are blamed on the blizzard.

The Associated Press

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A pedestrian braves the storm in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday.

AP

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A truck makes its way along a snow covered road in Sedgwick County, Kan., on Tuesday. The storm dropped a half-foot or more of snow across Missouri and Kansas and cut power to thousands. Gusting winds blew drifts more than 2 feet high and created treacherous driving conditions for those who dared the morning commute.

AP / The Wichita Eagle, Bo Rader

Some other roads reopened as sunny conditions began to thaw ice and snow-packed surfaces.

Just a day earlier, whiteout conditions had made virtually all Panhandle roads impassable. A hurricane-force gust of 75 mph was recorded in Amarillo, which got 17 inches. The heaviest snowfall was in Follett, Texas, with 21 inches.

In Oklahoma, 600 snowplows and trucks worked to reopen roads.

Because this was the second storm in as many weeks, weary Midwesterners were annoyed that a huge blizzard could so closely follow another major storm.

Climate scientists can't say that man-made global warming is the cause of individual extreme weather events, but they say climate change in general makes such storms more likely because of what it does to the thermodynamics of the air and water.

Warmer air in general holds more moisture, and when temperatures dance around the freezing mark — cold enough to fall as snow, but warm enough to hold lots of moisture — the storms dump more snow, especially if part of the system has been over unusually warm ocean water.

Since 1960, much of the United States has had twice as many extreme snowstorms as it had in the 60 years before, according to a new study by top scientists that will soon appear in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. But global warming is also shortening the snow season, dramatically reducing spring snow in the Northern Hemisphere, the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University found.

"These storms didn't just occur in a vacuum. They are fueled by record amounts of moisture in the atmosphere," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said Tuesday in an email.

Mann said the unusual warmth and moisture combine with cold air dipping down from the Arctic to produce heavy snow. He said some computer weather models predict the Midwestern storm may break a record for low-pressure, which is how meteorologists measure the strength of a storm.

The back-to-back storms have raised hopes that the moisture might ease the drought conditions that have gripped the Midwest for more than a year. The snowpack now resting on the Plains will help, but it's no drought-buster, experts say.

"If we get one more storm like this, with widespread 2 inches of moisture, we will continue to chip away at the drought," said meteorologist Mike Umscheid of the National Weather Service office in Dodge City. "But to claim the drought is over or ending is way too premature."

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