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Residents digging out after massive snow storm

A major winter storm brought the county and region to a standstill Sunday, stranding motorists, causing power outages and forcing churches and some businesses to close.

    Heavy snow in combination with high winds left most highways and city streets impassable  Sunday and Monday, and many businesses and government offices  were still closed Monday.

    The storm dumped over a foot of snow on Levelland, with 10-plus inches falling in other communities.

    Levelland officially had over 15 inches of snow over the weekend, according County Extension Agent Kerry Siders.

    He reported that Levelland had 7.4 inches of snow which was preceded by sleet and pea-size hail Saturday evening, The two combined resulted in 1.25 inches of moisture through Sunday morning. Another 8.3 inches of snow that fell Sunday through Monday morning produced another three-quarters of an inch of moisture.

    ‘We had nearly two inches of moisture and over 15 inches of snow,’ says Siders. 

    ‘That snow was difficult to measure because of the wind.’

    The City of Levelland City Hall stayed closed Monday because of the difficulties employees faced in getting out, said City Manager Rick Osburn.

    ‘There was no point in it,’ Osburn said.

    He said emergency services personnel – police, fire and the street department – were responding where needed, and most of that was to help free motorists who became stuck.

    ‘We’ve got some front-end loaders and we’ll work on getting emergency lanes open today, mostly to the hospital and nursing homes,’ Osburn said.

    Levelland City Hall reopened at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

    Fire Chief Bill Durham said firefighters responded to numerous calls from stuck motorists Sunday and Monday.
    ‘There’s been lots of stranded motorists and (electric) lines arcing. We just take our pickup trucks and go out,’ he said, adding that they couldn’t use their pumper trucks and other big vehicles.

    However, firefighters were limited on how far they could respond to emergencies because of drifting snow on highways.  Durham said that U.S. Highway 385 north was ‘horrible’ and nearly as bad as the road running south from town.

    The fire department received some alarm calls Sunday and Monday, but most of them were false alarms, Durham said thankfully.

    “We’re starting to get some of our roads open. When the state plowed the main roads, they blocked off the side streets with drifts four to five feet deep. We’re getting them open now,” said Police Chief Toney Cowan.

    He reported three power outages, one form a tree falling on Longhorn, another with a sign went down at 14th and College Saturday evening, and the third at 10th and Avenue H. 

    He credited Xcel Energy with doing an great job of responding to the emergencies.

    He said his officers were hampered by the deep snowfall because the department only had two 4-wheel drive vehicles.  Two-wheel drive vehicles were nearly useless during the storm.

    “At one time, we had three officers in one vehicle,” Cowan said.

    He also said one dispatcher remained in the law enforcement center for over 25 hours. 

    “We couldn’t get people in and we couldn’t get them home,” Cowan said.

    That was a problem experienced by every agency and every business.

    The Texas Department of Transportation employees began plowing early Sunday and Monday mornings. County supervisor Gary McLendon said his employees used graders to plow College Avenue.

    ‘We normally don’t plow any town,’ McLendon said . ‘We made several passes through College. It was terrible.’

    Road crews ran into drifts 3-6 feet tall on some of the roads leading out of Levelland.  One spot, by Worley Welding on FM 300, had a drift 5-6 feet tall. Some men on maintainers and front-end loaders removed snow in that area.

    ‘All of these people, they did a huge job,’ he said. ‘I can’t thank them enough.’

    Some of the drifts on highways were nearly a mile long, making it a non-stop chore for TxDOT employees to clear the roads.

    Texas 114 going east from Levelland was in ‘pretty good shape’ by the time the sun went down Monday. However, parts of FM 1294 and FM 597 were still impassable Tuesday morning, he said.

    Warm ground temperatures and the sun coming out Monday morning made the snow and ice melt faster than expected, McLendon said.

    ‘We are way farther along than I ever expected to be,’ he said.  ‘The ground has been so warm, and that started it to melt.’
    Sheriff R.C. Cheek said his deputies were responding to only extreme emergencies after the storm.

    ‘About all we’re able to do is take the absolute emergencies,’ Cheek said.  He said it took him two hours to drive 10 miles on Sunday while checking on the welfare of a family.

    Drifting snow covered fence lines on Sunday, allowing cattle to wander off.

    ‘We’ve got cattle all over the place,’ he said, adding that he didn’t have the manpower to help ranchers bring their cattle in.
    Drifting snow on Sunday led to six or seven vehicles becoming stranded on Texas 114 by Farmers Co-op Elevator. The sheriff said citizens with tractors, chains and four-wheel drive vehicles probably freed more stranded motorists Sunday than law enforcement officers did.

    Cheek said his own truck got stuck Monday morning in Smyer.

Police dispatcher Margaret Golightly said police were slammed with calls for service Sunday and Monday.

    Asked how many calls dispatchers received on both days, she said, ‘Two billion.’

Golightly said many callers demanded that the city clear their streets ‘right away,’ or ‘put me on the top of the list.’

    Dispatcher Cole Kirkland said he was not aware of any serious accidents in the county on Sunday and Monday. Many calls were from stranded motorists.

    Hockley County, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Curtis Thrash said  four of his five employees were blading  snow off of roads Monday. The fifth employee couldn’t  get out of his house.

    Thrash was using a front-end loader to clear snow from the hospital parking lot Monday afternoon. He said his employees would  use the machine Tuesday to try and break through areas where high drifts are too tall for maintainers to get through.

    ‘Some of the drifts are too big. We are on the county blacktops trying to bust through,’ he said, adding that one particularly troublesome spot is on Foster Road west of FM 168.

More problems will  surface after all of the snow and ice melts.

    ‘Once it thaws we’ll be blading roads to get the ruts out, and then we’ll evaluate the situation and see what we can do,’ Thrash said.
    Closed on Monday, the county courthouse did not open on Tuesday either, confirmed Precinct 3 Commissioner J.L. ‘Whitey’ Barnett.

    The decision to stay closed Tuesday was made by County Judge Larry Sprowls.

Barnett said streets and roads in the county remained in terrible shape Tuesday.

    ‘The streets in Levelland are terrible,’ he said. ‘It’s built up (snow drifts). Cars are stranded everywhere.’

    As for the area towns, Chris Bradberry, Smyer fire chief, said he was waiting on the county to send a maintainer to Smyer to help clear the roads in town Monday.

    ‘We’ve got drifts all over here,’ Bradberry said. ‘You can’t get through. We have some citizens clearing the intersections with tractors and front-end loaders, and they’ve done a pretty good job.’

    He said his department received one medical call over the weekend, but it was otherwise quiet.

    ‘We’re just trying to get people out,’ he said.

    Anton City Hall was closed Monday but reopened Tuesday. The city probably got 10 inches of snow but experienced no power outages.

    ‘We lucked out’ in not losing power, said City Secretary Lisa Davidson.

    Sundown City Hall reopened for business Tuesday morning.

Roads in the city were still snow- and ice-packed Tuesday, said city employee Linda Sehon.  Parts of Sundown lost power during the storm.

    Whiteface City Hall was open Monday and Tuesday.

Joey Alvarado said city employees spent most of the day Monday removing snow from driveways and freeing motorists who got stuck. The county sent a maintainer to town to help clear roads.

    The city lost electric power for about 5 ½ hours Sunday, Alvarado said.

    Morton City Hall was closed Monday but it reopened at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

    The U.S. Post Office in Levelland was closed Monday due to the inclement weather, and it was open half a day Tuesday, said employee Rudy Munos. 

    Postal carriers were not making deliveries Tuesday, Munos said. He noted that the Postal Service did not  receive any mail from Lubbock on Monday or Tuesday.

    Sunday’s storm brought scattered power outages to other parts of the county.

    Whitharral had electric power, said resident Cam Dockery, but some folks lost power east of the community.
‘We weren’t out of power,’ Dockery said. ‘Out in the country, they had some outages.’

On Monday, many residents worked on getting their streets and driveways clear of snow and ice, and doing the same for their neighbors, he said.

    ‘We were shoveling out driveways today,’ Dockery said. He said many roads in the countryside were in poor condition.

    David and Karol Albus, who live west of Whitharral, lost electric power for about seven hours Sunday. It went off at 5:30 a.m. but was back on by 2 p.m. Albus said the outages extended west to Oklahoma Flats, or FM 1490.

    ‘We considered that very lucky. It was miserable conditions,’ he said. ‘I give credit to the road crews and the electric people – Lamb County and Xcel. I expected to be out for days with the winds blowing like they did.’

    The high winds, in combination with different field conditions, left varying amounts of snow across the area, Albus said.

    Some fields where cotton stalks had already been cut were nearly clear of snow, while fields with uncut stalks and CRP grass retained snow. If the 10-11 inches of snow that did fall had come down straight with no wind, then growers probably would be facing a two-week dryout period before they resume field work, he said.

    ‘It depends,’ he said, adding that module trucks will have difficulty picking up cotton in some areas.

    United Supermarket did not open Sunday because of the heavy snow and dangerous driving conditions, said Jim Mara, store director.

    The store opened at 9 a.m. Monday, Mara said, adding that most employees were able to make it to work.

    ‘It’s been surprising,’ he said. ‘We’ll be OK.’ Mara said the store was not short on food supplies, including milk, but some brand of breads were out.’I’m a little concerned about bread. I have bread, but we’re OK.’
    He said the store was nearly out of bottled water by Tuesday.

    The turnout by shoppers on Saturday – before the storm hit – was phenomenal.

    ‘It was like Y2K,’ quipped Mara.

    Walmart remained open during the storm.

    Many businesses, including some banks, were closed Monday. Most  banks were scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

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