2.02.2011

Groundhog Day Storm to be severe

An enormous winter storm has taken aim at a third of the nation, bringing an arctic blast from Chicago to Houston and from the Rockies to New England. groundhog day activities

Dubbed the “Groundhog Day Storm,” the winter weather system on Tuesday triggered severe weather watches and warnings literally from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

Early Tuesday morning, Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, will look for his shadow and predict when Spring will come. Phil's Website, www.groundhog.org -- was already having trouble staying online Monday afternoon as many winter-weary Web surfers attempted to get an early idea what Phil might say.

As the storm system moves across the nation, metropolitan areas including Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City and St. Louis are expected to see as much as two feet of snow, with drifts as high as 10 feet.

Later in the week, the arctic blast is expected to hit already snow-weary cities in the Northeast.

Emergency management officials throughout the Midwest and Northeast were mobilizing to respond to the storm, while relief organizations and faith communities prepared to assist those in need during and after the storm passes. Both the American Red Cross and Salvation Army reported having disaster relief resources on standby.

Chicago

On Tuesday, Chicago emergency management officials were prepping for what could be the third-worst blizzard in the city’s history, with locals calling the storm a “snow-pocalypse.”

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning, cautioning residents that heavy snow was expected to come “in a couple of waves,” with accumulating lake effect snow across northeast Illinois through Wednesday morning. Heavy snows were expected to spread into northwest Indiana Wednesday afternoon.

Snow accumulations of up to two inches per hour were expected, with isolated amounts of as much as two feet.

The heavy snowfall combined with wind gusts as high as 50-60 mph were expected to create whiteout conditions by early Wednesday morning.

Weather service meteorologist Richard Castro urged residents to stay inside, warning that travel would be extremely dangerous.

“Travel could become impossible and a danger in and of itself to be out in those conditions (Tuesday) night,” Castro said.

Tom Byrne, head of Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department, said he would have the city’s full fleet of 274 trucks, along with 120 garbage trucks, all equipped with snow plows and ready to clear streets. In addition, the department had more than 220,000 pounds of rock salt ready for the expected icy roads.

“We will work this storm with everything we have at our disposal,” Byrne said.

In addition to the preparations being made in Chicago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn put additional resources on standby, issuing a disaster declaration for the entire state.

“The entire Midwest region of the country is expected to be hit with a serious winter storm over the next few days, and it is important that we are prepared so that Illinois residents are safe and warm in the days ahead,” Quinn said. “We will be increasing efforts to make sure that our roads are clear and that our most vulnerable residents are staying indoors and staying warm.”

Quinn activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield on Monday afternoon to coordinate the state’s response to the storm. Representatives from more than a dozen state agencies will man the SEOC 24 hours a day for the duration of the storm emergency.

“We’re working closely with local emergency management officials throughout the state to monitor conditions and be ready to provide whatever assistance they may need,” said Joe Klinger, interim director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. “But it’s also important that people prepare themselves for this storm by stocking their homes with food, water, flashlights, radios and other necessities.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Police warned drivers to use extra caution on roads. Both agencies pledged to increase efforts to keep motorists safe as driving conditions across the state become increasingly hazardous.

In addition, the Illinois Department of Aging was taking steps to ensure the safety of senior citizens. The department notified local service providers to check on older adults and make sure they have sufficient food, water and medication in the event that the storm causes power outages. The IDoA also alerted local agencies that have generators to make sure that they have fuel on hand to run them.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee city officials also said they were ready for the storm, but Mayor Tom Barrett said the city was “not freaking out” over the blizzard predictions.

"Here in Milwaukee, we are not freaking out over the snow, but we are already in action mode to deal with the snow expected not only (Tuesday), but through Wednesday morning," Barrett said.

City officials said 90 salt trucks have already been dispatched to address the snow that began to accumulate as early as Monday afternoon.

Milwaukee County Public Works Director Jack Takerian said his department had begun round-the-clock staffing of plows and salters.

“We will continue to have staff on duty for the next 72 to 96 hours, depending on the length of the storm,” Takerian said. “We'll have people on 24 hours a day working 12 hour shifts.”

The Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center was activated at 7 p.m. Monday to monitor the storm. Wisconsin Emergency Management, Wisconsin National Guard, Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Wisconsin State Patrol were all staffing the EOC.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Wisconsin State Patrol issued a media release advising motorists to not travel unless absolutely necessary following numerous reports of accidents across the state. groundhog day activities

The department of transportation reported that a 150-mile stretch of I-94 between Tomah and Hudson was impassable after heavy snow pummeled the area for much of the day.

The Wisconsin State Patrol said travel was not recommended in southern and southeastern Wisconsin, roughly south and east of a line from Prairie du Chien to Manitowoc. Permits for oversize and overweight trucks were suspended through midday Thursday.

Kansas City

In Kansas City, snow started falling around daybreak Tuesday and quickly began causing transportation problems. Dozens of flights were canceled at Kansas City International Airport due to deteriorating weather conditions and closures at other airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth International.

The city dispatched snowplows throughout the city in an effort to stay ahead of expected accumulations of as much as 10 inches. Traffic in Kansas City was reported lighter than usual Tuesday morning, with many taking the day off because of the severe weather conditions.

The city also activated phases I and II of its snow ordinance in anticipation of the storm. Motorists parked on emergency snow routes faced the possibility of vehicles being ticketed or towed as early as two hours after the ordinance was implemented. Additionally, vehicles without adequate tire tread that get stuck on a major thoroughfare were also subject to being ticketed.

In residential areas, motorists were asked to park vehicles off-street if possible to allow for snow plowing operations.

The city was also asking residents to minimize travel.

St. Louis

Across the state in St. Louis, 8-12 inches of snow was expected, along with blizzard conditions. Mayor Francis Slay closed city hall on Tuesday for all non-essential personnel. At the same time, the city reassured residents sufficient personnel would be available to help anyone needing assistance during the storm.

“Citizens depend on their city government for assistance in times like these. It is important that city offices have essential personnel on hand to assist our citizens and departments that are working to keep our city safe,” Slay said in a statement posted on the city’s website. “Some offices, like the Citizens' Service Bureau, will be working extended hours in order to provide residents needed services. Essential city employees will continue to respond to the storm and will work to keep residents safe.”

The city also encouraged residents to stay off roads and check on their neighbors.

The Missouri Highway Patrol also discouraged travel during the storm, according to Capt. J. Tim Hull.

“The Missouri State Highway Patrol is discouraging travel during this week's hazardous weather conditions. Freezing rain followed by sleet, heavy snow, wind, and bitterly cold temperatures will make driving treacherous and dangerous should you break down or slide off the road and become stranded,” Hull said.” Troopers will be out in full force during these severe weather and driving conditions. All leave days have been canceled and troopers are working 12-hour shifts , some in four-wheel drive pickup trucks, to provide coverage; however, motorists need to be aware response times will be much longer than normal especially on secondary roads.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the Missouri National Guard in preparation for the storm. Nixon and state emergency officials began monitoring the storm over the weekend and staged emergency generators across the state.

"Most of Missouri is expected to be affected by this severe winter storm, which is predicted to cause treacherous road conditions and possibly widespread power outages," Nixon said. "My chief concern is the safety of Missourians, and these orders make state agency resources and the citizen-soldiers of the Missouri National Guard available to help communities respond. As state emergency officials continued to track the storm over the weekend, we worked closely with local agencies and faith and community groups to ensure that Missouri is as prepared as possible."

Oklahoma City

In Oklahoma City, they were calling the storm “the beast,” as police cars and ambulances were getting stuck in the snow as they tried to respond to emergency calls. Emergency Medical Services Authority spokesperson Lara O’Leary said extra crews were being called in and four-wheel-drive vehicles were being dispatched to rescue stranded ambulances and medic crews.

“We’re having to hunker down in emergency mode,” O’Leary said.

So many Oklahoma City police cars were stuck in the snow that the city’s bomb squad truck had to be dispatched to help wreckers free stranded squad cars.

Firefighters at one fire station were forced to shovel the driveway before they could get fire trucks out to respond to calls for help.

Heavy snowfall was blamed for the partial collapse of a roof at the Hard Rock Casino in Catoosa, Okla., near Tulsa. No injuries were reported when the roof buckled in a portion of the casino, which is operated by the Cherokee Indian Nation.

Like governors in other states hit by the storm, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all 77 of the state’s counties even before the worst of the storm hit. Because of the predicted blizzard conditions and possible power outages, emergency management authorities recommended Fallin issue the declaration before the storm arrived so weight and size limits on state roadways could be waived to allow heavy power company vehicles to position themselves across the state.

“The winter storm heading toward Oklahoma has the potential to cause dangerous travel conditions and sub-freezing temperatures,” Fallin said as she issued the declaration. “This disaster declaration will make sure we can prepare for the winter weather ahead of the storm.”

Fallin also urged Oklahomans to prepare for the storm by making certain they had storm supplies such as flashlights, batteries, bottled water and non-perishable food.

Dallas

In Dallas, the storm coated much of the area with ice, virtually shutting down the area’s transportation system.

The icing also forced the closure of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport – the world’s third-largest airport – for several hours. Since DFW is a major hub, the flight delays and cancellations caused by the closure were felt across much of the nation.

Even as local authorities urged motorists to stay off the ice-coated roads, the Texas Department of Transportation was bringing in more than 80 workers from other parts of the state to help the 447 who were already struggling to clear roadways.

In addition, the North Texas Tollway Authority mobilized all 250 of its maintenance workers to treat area toll roads with magnesium chloride to melt the ice.

The winter blast even affected pre-game activities for this Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium. Tuesday was scheduled as media day and, although the stadium itself is covered and temperature-controlled, getting to the site was almost impossible. Teams from the Texas Department of Transportation were called in to sand roads leading to Cowboys Stadium.

Eastern Seaboard

After coating the Midwest with snow and ice, the storm was expected to move across the eastern part of the nation as the week progresses, bringing severe winter weather to New York, Washington DC, Boston and most of the Eastern Seaboard.

Even as the storm was lashing the Midwest, Northeastern cities in the storm’s path were making preparations for what would be the latest in a series of winter storms that have already strained resources and exhausted snow removal budgets.

It is estimated the storm could affect as many as 100 million people nationwide. groundhog day activities

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