Major snowstorm slams Midwest
Three die on roads; 2.4 million lack power; hundreds of flights canceled
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:31 a.m. PT Dec 1, 2006
CHICAGO - The first major snowstorm of the season forced a plane off a runway, canceled hundreds of flights and shuttered schools and businesses across the Plains and Midwest on Friday as drivers fought sloppy highways.
At least three deaths were blamed on the storm that was moving northwest through Illinois and Michigan on a path to Canada.
A Fed Ex cargo plane arriving Friday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport slipped off the runway into mud, and crews were working to tow it away. No one was hurt, but the accident left only one runway open, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Laura and Ron Whittingham said early Friday that their United flight to Las Vegas was leaving on time from O’Hare, one of numerous airports where most flights were canceled.
“I guess we’re just the lucky ones,” Ron Whittingham said. “We are going to Vegas, so that’s a good thing, right? We’re starting off lucky.”
In Missouri, Holly Foster said she was the only employee who had made it in to Gov. Matt Blunt’s office by 8 a.m.
About 2.4 million customers across central and southern Illinois and parts of Missouri were without power early Friday after ice snapped tree limbs and power lines.
In the Chicago area, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning until noon, predicting 6 to 12 inches of snow. Winds gusted to over 30 mph as the storm arrived in full by the morning rush hour.
“It looks like it’s going to get messy,” said Tim Halbach, a meteorologist in the Chicago suburb of Romeoville. “There could be times where some areas see 2 inches of snow per hour.”
The wintry system struck Thursday from Texas to Michigan, forcing the closure of hundreds of schools, colleges and universities and state offices. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared a disaster emergency for 27 counties, freeing up resources to help them.
The weather even forced the postponement of the state high school football playoffs in Oklahoma for the first time in 14 years. Snowfall there ranged from 2 inches to nearly a foot, while parts of Illinois prepared for 6 to 12 inches. In southeastern Wisconsin, forecasters warned that winds and rain could bring near-blizzard conditions.
State trooper responding to crash also stranded
An Oklahoma man was killed Thursday when his vehicle skidded on an icy road and hit an oncoming tractor-trailer. Also Thursday, on Interstate 44 near Rolla, Mo., a semitrailer truck slid through a cable barrier and struck several vehicles. A motorist who had been involved in an earlier accident and was standing by his car was struck and killed.
A driver died in Boone County, Mo. on Thursday when his car was struck by a snowplow blade, said Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. John Hotz. Two passengers were taken to a hospital with serious injuries.
The state trooper who responded to the crash then apparently became stranded himself.
“Apparently there were several of our troopers that were stranded out there all night,” Hotz said. “We’re having trouble even getting patrol cars around.”
In Oklahoma, two accidents on Interstate 40 snarled traffic for most of Thursday. A 16-vehicle pileup involving an ambulance and eight semitrailers forced the closure of the highway in central Oklahoma for nearly 13 hours, while a tractor-trailer carrying some radiological material overturned in Oklahoma City.
No hazardous material leaked, said Highway Patrol trooper Kera Philippi, although the highway was shut down for more than six hours.
A 50-mile stretch of I-70 across mid-Missouri, where some of the heaviest snow fell, remained closed early Friday.
At the Nevada Fuel Mart in southwest Missouri, Rose Dozier said most truck drivers heading south stopped early Thursday night. They reported near-zero visibility before the snow began to subside.
“The drivers are all professionals and they’re used to it,” Dozier said. “They said a lot of cars are not.”
Jennifer Stark with the National Weather Service in Topeka, Kan., said the storm seemed especially impressive because it had been preceded by unseasonably mild weather. Temperatures approached, and in some places eclipsed, record highs earlier in the week.
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