Treacherous travel underway as blizzard conditions and ice blast parts of central US |


A blizzard-fueling winter storm swept across the Plains and upper Midwest with heavy snow, freezing rain and strong winds, creating dangerous travel during the busy holiday week.

The storm’s strong wind gusts Monday and Tuesday – sometimes 50 to 60 mph, with isolated gusts up to 75 mph – generated blizzard conditions and made travel “difficult to near impossible,” the National Weather Service said.

That included parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming, where blizzard warnings were in force Monday and Tuesday. Blizzards occur when blowing snow and sustained strong winds combine for at least three hours and reduce visibility to a quarter-mile or less.

The low visibility levels shut down a huge swath of highway in western Nebraska as of Tuesday night. Westbound Interstate 80 and Highway 30 were closed from Kearney, in the middle of the state, to the Wyoming state line, a stretch of about 270 miles, according to the state Department of Transportation. In addition, the eastbound travel on the highways were closed from Wyoming to North Platte, about 179 miles, according to the transportation department and state police.

Parts of South Dakota were hit with a foot or more of snow, including 13.8 inches in Gregory and 12 inches in Deadwood and Spearfish, according to the the National Weather Service. Aurora, Colorado, received 7.5 inches of snow, and Norfolk, Nebraska, got 7 inches, the service said.

“Widespread travel disruptions are likely across the region,” the weather service warned. Residents were cautioned to avoid travel, but if they must be on the road, to bring survival kits and stay in their vehicles in case they get stranded.

Blizzard warnings and ice storm warnings were due to start expiring across the Central and Northern Plains late Tuesday to early Wednesday. Light to moderate snow as well as rain and freezing rain still could fall over parts of the region through early Wednesday morning.

For Wednesday, the snowfall will largely wrap up by the end of the day across the Midwest, the freezing rain will end over the Northern Plains, and threats of excessive rainfall will wrap up across the Appalachian Mountains.

A marginal risk for excessive rainfall, or level 1 of 4, exists Wednesday for parts of the I-95 corridor of the northern Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Major cities in the flood threat include Washington, DC; Philadelphia; and New York City. Travel and flight delays are possible across the major Northeast cities on Wednesday.

One traveler, Bradley Sanders, told CNN he was driving from Denver to Chicago on Tuesday when the blizzard hit, so he pulled over near Ogallala, Nebraska, to charge his car around noon. Soon after, he learned the highway was shut down, so he booked a motel for the night. He said there was a line of stranded drivers at the motel looking for a room.

Amanda Dawn Benitez also was stuck in Ogallala, she told CNN on Tuesday. She was traveling from Twin Falls, Idaho, to McDonough, Georgia, with her husband, son and 2-pound chihuahua. Her husband is a truck driver, so they’ve been making the trek in his 18-wheeler, where they plan to spend Tuesday night. Benitez, who is from Alabama, said she’s never experienced so much snow in her life.

“I said I wanted a white Christmas, but I didn’t want a blizzard,” she said. Benitez said her son and chihuahua are playing in the snow and enjoying it.

For some areas, the main winter weather threat shifted from snow to ice on Tuesday.

A mix of sleet and freezing rain threatened to cause scattered power outages and make for dangerously icy roads and sidewalks in parts of the northern Plains and upper Midwest on Tuesday. Portions of the Dakotas and Minnesota were under ice storm warnings through Tuesday evening.

Residents in 14 North Dakota counties are being advised to avoid all travel Tuesday because of poor winter road conditions, the state’s Department of Transportation announced. Westbound lanes of about 50 miles of Interstate 94 in the state were closed Tuesday morning due to “multiple traffic incidents.”

There were reports of freezing rain from ice storms in the Dakotas, the service said Tuesday, including an inch of freezing rain in Verona, North Dakota.

The storm was expected to begin to wind down Tuesday night across the central US and lose most of its potency early Wednesday. A few snow showers or a mix of rain and wet snow may linger for the Plains, but widespread, disruptive weather will come to an end midweek.

Accidents and road closures began on Christmas Day

Treacherous conditions began on Monday for portions of the central US as the storm dumped a dangerous mix of snow, ice and strong winds.

Cars collided and slid off roads Monday in Nebraska, where tractor-trailers jackknifed and got stuck on eastbound Interstate 80 near York in the morning and early afternoon, the Nebraska State Patrol said.

Per Nebraska State Patrol:
The storm is causing issues on the roads on this Christmas morning. Slick driving conditions and blowing snow continue in many areas of the state. 

These photos are all from between Grand Island and Lincoln on I-80.

Great day to stay inside if travel isnít necessary.

Farther north, heavy snowfall slammed the Dakotas. In South Dakota, I-90 was closed in both directions from Monday night through Tuesday morning for a more than 200-mile stretch between Mitchell and Wall, the South Dakota Department of Transportation said.

Eastbound lanes between Wall and Rapid City – about 50 miles – were also closed, the department said. The westbound lanes were expected to remain open Tuesday “unless weather and road conditions change.”

“Motorists should not use secondary highways to avoid Interstate closures. Significantly reduced visibilities and blizzard-like conditions will make travel very dangerous during this storm system,” the department said.

The South Dakota Highway Patrol said it responded to several crashes in Watertown as ice and snow blanketed roadways.

“Please slow down, don’t use your cruise control, and always wear your seatbelt. Snow plows are out, please give them room to work,” the South Dakota Highway Patrol urged residents.

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