Law enforcement and tow trucks were kept busy Sunday as a combination of ice, snow and wind created white out conditions and caused over three dozen vehicles, including a couple of semis, to slide off the road and into the ditch.
Vehicles were still in the ditch Monday morning after wind, snow and ice combined Sunday to turn U.S. 54 into more of an ice rink than a highway. For several hours, one vehicle after another, including a semi truck, slid off the road and into the ditch.
Pratt Law Enforcement Center dispatch sent officers to 27 incidents of slide offs with most being east of Pratt on U.S. 54.
“We just got done with one call and headed for the next one,” said Capt. Dan Ailstock of the Pratt County Sheriff ’s Office.
Slide offs started around 7 a.m. Sunday and continued throughout the day to around 3 p.m. Sheriff ’’s officers were assisted by Kansas Highway Patrol while Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism law enforcement helped with traffic control. Kansas Department of Transportation was so busy treating roads they were unable to spare any help for traffic control.
Ailstock, a deputy and KHP Trooper Micah Polson worked the wrecks that just seemed to keep coming one after another, Ailstock said.
While most of the slide offs were east 54, there were at least two and perhaps three on K-61 and a couple on 54 west of Pratt. One vehicle slipped off the road at the mixing strip just west of Skyline while a county sand truck and an RV collided around west 54 and SW 50th Avenue.
The collision resulted in minor damage and no one was injured in any wreck in the county, Ailstock said.
Visibility was a critical factor in getting vehicles back on the road. Ailstock said visibility ranged from a quarter of a mile to just a few feet depending on the location. With snow blowing off wheat fields and the blowing snow in general, it was dangerous to be driving.
Speed was also a big factor in waiting until Monday to retrieve vehicles in the ditch. Even while wreckers were working emergency flashing lights were working, some drivers didn’t slow down on the slick roads that caused the problems in the first place.
“Traffic was going too fast for conditions,” Ail- stock said.
The worst areas for drivers were on East 54 around 25th Avenue and 45th Avenue. A semi tractor and trailer jackknifed just east of 25th Avenue. The tractor was on the roadway and the trailer was in the ditch. Highway 54 was shut down for a brief time so a wrecker could pull the truck and trailer back onto the highway.
Traffic was stopped at Pratt Livestock Auction and also east of Pratt city limits. The blowing snow reduced visibility to just a few feet in places making it necessary to shut down the highway in both places for safety while the truck was recovered, Ailstock said.
“We had to back off to the sale barn. It was zero visibility,” Ailstock said. “We were just lucky more accidents didn’t happen when we shut that down.” Another semi slid off the road by the five-mile bridge east of Pratt. Unlike the other semi, only the east bound traffic was stopped to get the semi back on the road.
Slide offs also happened on county roads. Besides the slide offs on Highway 61, a vehicle got stuck on SW 150th Avenue and SW 70th Street on Pratt/Kiowa County line. Another happened at SE 60th Avenue by Glendale plus couple on U.S. 281 with one between South 40th Street and 50th Street and one on north 281 around 7 p.m. There were still some icecovered areas on 281 Monday morning, Ailstock said.