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Deadly blizzard slams U.S. Southwest

Dec. 19, 2011 at 11:05 PM   |   Comments

AMARILLO, Texas, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- A blizzard blamed for two deaths in Colorado slammed the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains Monday night, officials said.

State police in Colorado said a Corrections Corp. of America van carrying two guards and nine prisoners rolled over on icy Interstate 70 between Genoa and Limon, killing one guard and one prisoner. The Denver Post reported.

With as much as 18 inches of snow expected in some parts of the region, the Los Angeles Times reported Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced late Monday he had activated state military personnel as a precautionary measure as the storm pressed in.

"I urge Texans in the path of this winter storm to remain cautious and heed warnings from local officials as this severe winter storm may create dangerous driving conditions for holiday travel," Perry said in a statement.

The National Weather Service's blizzard warning for parts of Texas called for as much as 6 inches of snow and winds gusting to 50 mph.

KAKE-TV, Wichita, Kan., reported state Transportation Department officials said they had closed three highways -- westbound U.S. 54 at Liberal, U.S. 160 from Stanton County to the Colorado state line and U.S. 50 from the Colorado line to Syracuse -- because the storm had made it too dangerous for travel.

CNN reported National Weather Service meteorologist Ariel Cohen said visibility was less than a quarter-mile in parts of western Kansas and southeastern Colorado, where a blizzard warning was in effect. Also in the blizzard warning area were northeastern New Mexico, the northwest Texas panhandle and the Oklahoma panhandle, he said.

Missouri was in the storm's sites for later in the evening.

New Mexico State Police closed Interstate 40 from Albuquerque to the Texas state line and the interstate also was shut down in the Texas panhandle, CNN said. Interstate 25 was shut down from north of Albuquerque to the Colorado state line.

Other New Mexico roads also had been closed to traffic.

Trooper Gabe Medrano of the Texas Department of Public Safety said there were "whiteout conditions" north of Amarillo.

"It's going to make for pretty bad conditions," he said.

The storm arrives at the start of a holiday travel week that is one of the busiest of the year.

Airlines advised passengers to call ahead due to probable flight delays and cancellations.

The snow and winds were expected to end by midday Tuesday, but temperatures would remain below freezing, the weather service said.

The storm system was forecast to bring accumulating snow from Chicago to Detroit before shifting toward the east Wednesday.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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