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'Truly a historic blizzard,' weather service says

By Brad Lendon and Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 10:39 PM EST, Mon February 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Drivers trapped on highway in Texas for more than nine hours
  • Emergency crews in Oklahoma get stuck on their way to fire call
  • Whiteout conditions force plows from Texas highways
  • Amarillo, Texas gets 19 inches of snow in one day

(CNN) -- Phillip Prince has been sitting in his tractor-trailer, stuck on Interstate 40 near Groom, Texas, for hours.

Nine hours and four minutes, to be precise.

Prince and his co-driver were due in California at 1 p.m. Tuesday, where they were going to drop off 25,000 pounds of frozen pizza.

But then they came upon what the National Weather Service is calling "a crippling, historic blizzard."

"It was pretty nasty when we first got into it," he said. "But then it turned into a whiteout."

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Southwest Airlines employees guide a plane into the gate at Midway International Airport in Chicago on Tuesday, February 26. Back-to-back storms have hit the Great Plains, which is still digging out from last week's weather. Are you experiencing the storm? If it's safe, share your photos. Southwest Airlines employees guide a plane into the gate at Midway International Airport in Chicago on Tuesday, February 26. Back-to-back storms have hit the Great Plains, which is still digging out from last week's weather. Are you experiencing the storm? If it's safe, share your photos.
Photos: Snowstorm hits the Plains
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Photos: Snowstorm hits the Plains Photos: Snowstorm hits the Plains
Keeping healthy in cold weather

Prince, who has been a long-haul driver for nine years, says he's never seen it this bad, as he explained his situation on CNN.com's iReport. The line of trucks is five to six miles long.

It's frustrating, the west-bound driver said, because he can see snowplows in the east-bound lanes. He hopes to get moving soon; he's down to eating his last box of Lucky Charms.

The good news is that it has stopped snowing. The winds are still 55 mph, but the skies are clear though the roads are not.

The storm has been moving east during the day, dumping records amount of snow along the way.

In Woodward, a town in northwest Oklahoma, firefighters were unable to reach a burning house because they ran into 4-foot snow drifts. The snowplow sent to dig them out also became stuck, Matt Lehenbauer, the director of Woodward, said Monday afternoon.

"At this point, we can't keep ahead of snowfall rates," he said. "Right now, the situation is pretty critical."

At least six calls came in from other stranded motorists, he said.

As of 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET), 15 inches of snow had fallen in Woodward, the most snow accumulation since 1971, the National Weather Service said.

Blizzard warnings were set to expire at midnight across the Texas Panhandle, CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said.

The powerful storm will move northeast through Oklahoma on Monday night, prompting blizzard warnings there.

Blizzard conditions are expected to move into south central Kansas early Tuesday, bringing another round of heavy snow to Wichita, which just experienced record snowfall last week.

As the storm moves into eastern Kansas, winds will die down and whiteout conditions are less likely. However, heavy snow is still forecast with snowfall totals over a foot in some areas of southeast Kansas.

The storm is leaving behind a huge mess in its wake.

Almost all roads in the Texas Panhandle were impassable Monday, and the state Department of Transportation pulled virtually all of its snowplows off roads because of whiteout conditions, Texas DOT spokesman Paul Braun said Monday morning.

On its Facebook page, the weather service posted a video of the wind and snow whipping a U.S. flag outside its Amarillo office.

"If after watching the last video you thought you could still get out and travel, well you haven't seen anything yet!" the Facebook post said.

And later, it followed that up with another indication of how bad things were getting.

"Amarillo Airport just recorded a gust of 65knots/75mph! This is truly a historic blizzard!" the second Facebook post said. "Conditions have NOT improved. Please stay inside and do NOT venture out."

As of 4 p.m. (5 p.m. ET), 19 inches of snow had fallen in Amarillo -- an all-time single day record for February, the weather service said. Monday's accumulation also ranked as the second highest single-day snowfall accumulation ever recorded there, the agency said.

For some, the service's warnings didn't come soon enough.

Emergency crews were having trouble reaching drivers who were caught on the roads, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Gabriel Medrano said. Cars were in ditches, he said, because drivers couldn't tell where road ended and ditch began.

National Guard units were being sent to help stranded motorists, the Texas DOT said.

CNN iReporter Jason Boyett in Amarillo posted a video showing near-whiteout conditions at 7:40 a.m., and followed that with another showing a drift nearly 3 feet high outside his front door.

"We get high winds and we get big snowstorms, but they're not often combined," Boyett said.

Track the massive winter storm

Whiteouts were also reported in Oklahoma, where as of 10 a.m. Central time, the state had closed all highways in six counties -- Ellis, Harper, Woodward, Beaver, Texas and Cimarron -- until further notice.

"Roadways and ditches are snow packed with no visibility and are very slick and hazardous. All travel is discouraged," the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said. As much as 16 inches of snow could fall in western areas of the state, the weather service said.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb declared a state of emergency for 56 of Oklahoma's 77 counties.

Visibility was low in Fairview, Oklahoma, midway between the Panhandle and Oklahoma City, said CNN iReporter Brandi Whitacre.

"Right now it is snowing so heavily I can barely see down our driveway, which is 100 yards or so. It is coming down," said Whitacre, who added that'd she'd lost satellite TV service and was experiencing intermittent power outages.

Are you there? Send stories and photos

The blizzard is the second major winter storm to hammer the region in a week.

The number of people under blizzard and winter storm warnings, watches and advisories totaled 35 million, according to CNN's weather unit.

Wichita schools were closed for the third straight school day as the new storm roared in on the heels of one that dumped up to 22 inches of snow on some areas late last week.

Kansas' governor on Sunday extended a state of emergency declaration to include the new storm.

Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday that one person had been killed in a single car accident in Sherman County. Officials blamed the fatal wreck on icy roads.

The Kansas Department of Transportation reported that many highways in the central part of the state, including Interstate 70, were completely covered by snow and ice on Monday morning.

All flights in and out of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport in Texas were canceled until noon on Monday.

Preston Smith International Airport in Lubbock was also closed, CNN affiliate KCBD reported, and Texas Tech University in Lubbock shut down on Monday because of the storm.

While millions will see snow -- including Chicago, where 3 to 7 inches of snow and sleet are expected by Wednesday morning -- rain may rule for the next few days in parts of the Southeast.

In Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast, residents prepared for the possibility of heavy rain and wind gusts as strong as 30 mph by Monday night.

The rain is part of a band affecting several Southern states where tornado watches were in also effect Monday night.

CNN's Greg Botelho, AnneClaire Stapleton and Judson Jones contributed to this report.

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