The Golden Belt ground, or rather slid, to a halt this past weekend as what some called “icemageddon” coated the region with thick layer of frozen rain. Countless limbs crashed to the ground and thousands of residents were left without electricity.
With temperatures in the upper 20s and lower 30s, the precipitation started Saturday afternoon and continued on and off through Sunday night. There was a renewed chance of showers Monday morning, but that never materialized, much to the approval of city, county and safety personnel.
The storm’s arrival had been much anticipated as warnings were issued and crews pre-treated roads and intersections. Stores sold out of some food items, cars lined up at gas stations and traffic slowed to a trickle as residents hunkered down and stayed inside.
People started preparing for the storm last week, said Jackie Otten, a supervisor at Waters True Value in Great Bend.
Generators were sold before they came off the truck, she said. “We did not even begin to have enough.” The warehouse in Kansas City was also out of generators on Monday.
The hardware store also sold “a ton of salt,” with one pallet going to Great Bend USD 428 and two more sold to the general public. Chain saws were also in demand.
Likewise, Chyenne Riggs, a customer service representative at the 10th Street Dillons store, said people stocked up on milk, bread, canned soup and other staples last week. “We almost ran out of salt,” she said.
Ice on trees and roads
Several events were canceled. While some offices were already closed on Monday due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Great Bend schools and the Great Bend Public Library called for an “ice day.”
A trip through Great Bend slowed by slick roads could reveal an icy wonderland. It could also reveal many downed tree limbs littering yards, streets, and resting on top of vehicles and houses.
Large trucks hauled heaping loads of limbs to disposal sites on Monday.
Great Bend Public Lands Director Scott Keeler and his crews were among those at work Monday. “It was all calm until 6 a.m. Then the wind came up and it sounded like fireworks out there (with snapping limbs).”
Keeler said there were lots of branches down and there was power out in some areas. There were also lights down near Great Bend High School.
Great Bend Fire Department received calls related to the ice storm on Sunday and Monday, including calls for ambulances due to people falling on ice.
As power lines came down, neighbors who saw arcing called 911 to report possible structure fires. However, there were no fires, GBFD Chief Napolitano reported.
More damage was likely Monday as people viewed the aftermath of the storm and as ice-laden tree limbs continued to come down.
“We were pretty quiet,” said Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir. Most of the calls deputies responded to were for people slipping and falling on the ice or for losing power.
“It helped that it was a weekend,” Bellendir said. “People were smart enough to stay home.”
The sheriff did commend the Barton County Road and Bridge Department and Kansas Department of Transportation for their efforts at treating roads, which kept them from getting slick. “They really stayed ahead of it.”
“It’s been a long weekend and it’s going to be a long day,” said Chris Huber with Wheatland Electric Monday morning. But, “it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been.”
Within the Great Bend city limits, over 200 homes lost electricity Sunday, but power was restored to many of those by Monday morning. With tree limbs and ice, it was slow going for Wheatland personnel as they picked through the debris to make inspections and repairs.
Power losses were scattered throughout the city, Huber said.
As for rural areas, Huber said Wheatland didn’t lose and long stretches of line, but there were isolated power outages.
According to Midwest Energy’s website, the utility had over 5,500 customers without electricity Monday morning, ranging from WaKeeney to Jetmore to Lyons to Pratt. “It’s been pretty crazy out there,” said Mike Morley, Midwest’s communications manager.
The company’s crews were spread all over the area. Contracted crews were also on the job.
Morley said there was a lot of ice loading on lines as well as fallen branches. He expected his people to be busy through Tuesday.
Around the area
Claflin Mayor Mike Urban reported several limbs and trees broken around town. City workers were busy working to clear roads and streets, and by mid-morning Monday had already hauled six truckloads to the city’s tree dump. While there were no power poles down, several residents were without power due to fallen limbs.
Residents heeded warnings to avoid travel if possible, and no major accidents were reported over the weekend, he said.
“Everyone was tucked in and weathering the storm,” he said. “This was just a typical winter ice storm.”
Ellinwood and Hoisington both operate city utilities, and their workers were out in force too. Ellinwood’s Interim City Manager, Chris Komarek, who also works closely with the Ellinwood power plant, was busy from dawn until dusk assisting with repairs caused by downed limbs which had disrupted power to individual houses.
That, according to Ellinwood Police Chief Art Keffer, was the biggest problem facing the city Monday morning. He estimated at least 15-20 power lines were down Monday morning. Roadways, including those that are brick, were clear for the most part, he said. Schools there were also closed for the holiday, and most people continued to stay in, making it easier for the cleanup and repairs to proceed.
Keffer advised residents with downed lines not to attempt to remedy the situation themselves, but instead call the city utility. Also, those with tree limbs they would like to have hauled away are encouraged to pull them to the curb as soon as possible.
“The city will be removing what has fallen into the street, so it’s important to have whatever you’d like hauled away out there as they come through,” he said. “Don’t wait until after they’ve come and ask them to come back, because they will not.”
Keffer, himself, is happy he has a chainsaw because he too has a few big branches down in his yard that will need to be removed.
Hoisington City Manager Jonathan Mitchell noted there were a number of people out and about over the weekend despite the weather. Still, there were no major accidents called in.
“I think the people out understood their limitations,” he said. Hoisington USD 431 was closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which helped keep the number of drivers to a minimum.
“Overall we’ve been fortunate,” Mitchell said. Only a limited number of residents were experiencing power outages on Monday, though there were a number of tree limbs down in roadways and yards. This prompted the Hoisington Police to send a Nixle alert to residents via their cell phones:
“The recent ice storm has caused a significant amount of branches to fall in yards or into public rights of way. Please move branches to your curb by the end of the week and City personnel will remove it as time permits. Please exercise caution when moving branches so as to not put yourself in danger. If you see any downed power lines or have an outage, please contact the City (620-653-4125) as soon as possible.”
Several residents reported cable lines down, and city workers discovered one power line to a street light down Monday morning, which they quickly repaired.
The National Weather Service’s forecast for Great Bend predicts Tuesday will be cloudy through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 40 and northwest winds around 7 mph becoming west-southwest in the afternoon. Tuesday’s low should be around 26, with winds from the south-southwest around 5 mph.
Wednesday and Thursday should be mostly sunny with highs near 48 and lows around 33.