Aftermath of December 19-20, 2011 Plains Blizzard

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I was out in Garden City, Kansas during this blizzard, and I can honestly say, I have never experienced anything quite like this before. I was born and raised near Akron, OH, so getting a foot of snow was not too unusual, but getting a foot of snow with winds gusting to 50+ mph, now that was crazy. At times, it was hard to even keep your balance with the combination of 50 mph wind gusts and the ice and snow under your feet.

Courtesy NOAA: A map of the snow depth after the blizzard. As you can see, I was in one of the heaviest bands of snow in Kansas. (Click image for full NOAA resolution)

I arrived in Garden City around 3 PM, just about the time the rain changed to freezing rain and was mixing with a little sleet. I checked in to my hotel room and began to prepare for the long night ahead of me.

For nearly two hours the precipitation was a mix of a little bit of everything. For brief periods of time it would change to all snow, but then it would mix right back with sleet again. By 5 PM the snow/sleet was beginning to accumulate, but very slowly.

Snow/sleet beginning to accumulate.

By 9 PM there was only 2 inches of snow/sleet on the ground. The sleet was really cutting down on accumulations, and I began to worry I hadn’t driven far enough west/north.

About 2 inches of snow/sleet had fallen by 9 PM.

Finally, by 10 PM or so, the precipitation had changed to all snow. Around 11 PM the snow really began to pick up in intensity and the winds continued to consistently gust above 45 mph. The snow began to accumulate quickly (in the somewhat sheltered areas) and the drifts began to pile up. For a time, mainly between 11 PM and 2 AM, the combination of the high winds and heavy snow was so intense that the Comfort Inn sign in the above pictures was barely visible.

Below is some footage I took during the blizzard. This was taken around 11 PM.


By the morning, all the snow had come to an end. The winds were still gusting to 35 mph and blowing some snow around, but nothing too severe. This is what I woke up to.

What I woke up to the morning after the blizzard.

I took multiple measurements around the hotel that morning, and the average snow depth was 13 inches (in sheltered locations), with drifts of 2 – 3 feet. I began my trek home around 10 AM, and below is a little of what I saw along the way. Roads were completely snow packed with a layer of ice underneath. While driving east on US 400 that morning, I did not see one other vehicle for nearly an entire hour, a moving vehicle that is. There were probably 30-40 vehicles stranded along the highway between Garden City and Dodge City, some were even on their sides. The average snow drifts outside of town were 4 – 5 feet, while a few isolated snow drifts reached 7 FEET in remote locations just east of Garden City. When I arrived in Pratt, Kansas, about 1 hour west of Wichita, trees and power lines were coated in about 1/4 inch of ice.

A truck was flipped on its side off of US 400.

The average snow drifts outside of Garden City, KS were 4 - 5 feet.

A few isolated snow drifts reached 7 FEET!

Trees and power lines were coated in approx. 1/4 inch of ice near Pratt, Kansas.

This was definitely an experience I will never forget, and hopefully I will get to go blizzard chasing again sometime soon!

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