Wichita prepares for the worst after 2 days of icy commutes

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Road Conditions

"I went out this morning to get my paper and I went down like a ton of bricks," said Alan King, Wichita's director of Public Works.  "I'm still kind of limping around." 

Day two of icy morning commutes and walkers and drivers are both still sliding out of control. The City of Wichita says it's doing what it can to keep the streets safe, but there are areas you should be especially careful in.

"So I want to let everybody know that even though the main roads are in pretty good shape in terms of travel," King told reporters Wednesday morning, "the side streets, sidewalks, driveways continue to be treacherous."

King says his road crews have been out on the main roads in Wichita since Tuesday night.  They're using a mix of sand and salt on the roads to keep them drivable.  By late morning, the 1500 miles of main roads the city concentrates on were pretty clear, he said.  Crews were just out looking for those occasional trouble spots.

"This is probably the best treatment for us to use during these kinds of conditions. And they degrade if they're not kept up, especially as you continue to get moisture," King said.

Side roads, though, are another story.  With only 60 trucks, the city doesn't even try to treat the roads in residential neighborhoods. Meaning, the more moisture that comes down in these temperatures, the slicker the roads get.

"You get into the neighborhoods and all bets are off.  It's really slick there," he said.

He added, the good news is the city has more than enough salt to keep treating the main roads for the rest of the winter, if need be.

Slideoff Safety

"If you're involved in a crash, and your vehicle is disabled, and you're going to want to get out of the vehicle to see what type of injuries you might have. You're probably going to want to get out of the vehicle cause you're going to be just scared in the beginning," said Trooper Ben.

Trooper Ben Gardner is known for taking to Twitter as one of Kansas' Tweeting Troopers, to share his concerns about Kansans' driving habits.  Wednesday, he was worried about what we tend to do after a slideoff.

"I'm telling you, at some point, you need to recognize that standing outside the vehicle in itself is very dangerous along the interstate system," he said.  "The best place to be is to stay in your vehicle, if you can, because that is where you've got some protection."

Protection from other vehicles falling victim to the same slick spots on the road.  

That's what happened on Kellogg and K-96 in Wichita, Wednesday morning.  A series of accidents in the same areas, some rollovers, brought traffic on both state highways to a near standstill at one point.  

A similar accident last November killed a 71-year-old man in McPherson County during a winter storm.  And last month, a series of police cars across the state were struck during a storm while responding to accidents.

Staying in your vehicle doesn't mean forever, but at least until officers arrive with lights and sirens to make the scene more visible in a warning to other drivers.

"Man, stay in the vehicle as long as you can, or as best as you can, once you've evaluated the situation," Trooper Ben said.  "Because that's the better location to be than to be walking around, along the interstate for some vehicle to slide into you." 

Lights Out Warning

Meanwhile, with a warning now that it's a 50/50 chance we could have freezing rain Thursday morning, Westar Energy is bracing for possible major power outages across the state.

"We have crews ready and on standby when they get the call," said Kaley Bohlen with Westar in Wichita.

The electric company has had plenty of experience in responding to ice-induced major power outages across Kansas.  In the 2005 ice storm some towns lost power for as long as two weeks.  The National Weather Service considers it one of the five worst in state history.  

One of the big causes of those outages, tree limbs overburdened with an ice coating falling down onto power lines.  Since then, Westar has begun year round tree rimming, keeping those tree limbs away from power lines.

"That helps reduce a lot of the outages that we see in these winter weather conditions," Bohlen explained.

While Westar doesn't expect this storm to be quite that bad, Bohlen says there are things you can do now to stay safe in a worst case scenario Thursday.

"Keep your phone charged so when there is an outage, you're prepared for that," she said. 

Then she suggests having an emergency preparedness kit on hand.

"Fresh batteries, flashlights, a battery operated radio, things like that," she said.  The kit should also include blankets and water.

Finally, she says it's a good idea to have a Plan B if the power goes out and stays out for any length of time.

"If you know that it's unsafe for you or a member of your household to be without power, make sure you  have a plan in place to go somewhere warm.

Westar says reporting an outage quickly helps them get repairs done faster.  You can report by phone, just call 1-800-LIGHT-KS.  You can also text a report to 97827 or online at Westar's website.  

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