Midwest blizzard blamed for 4 deaths, traffic jams, school closures

Dec. 21, 2012 at 3:28 PM
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MILWAUKEE, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- A winter storm muscled through the United States, killing at least four people, snarling travel and knocking out power for tens of thousands of customers.

More than a foot of snow was reported in the region's first blizzard of the season and driving was hazardous in many areas. The storm began in the west, with snowfall in Flagstaff, Ariz. and blizzard conditions in eastern Colorado Tuesday, and is slowly moving east.

Officials in Nebraska temporarily closed much of Interstate 80 Thursday and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for much of southern Wisconsin, CNN reported.

Cities across Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa had record-setting snowfalls Thursday. Gaylord, Mich., received 13.8 inches of snow, Madison, Wis., had 13.3 inches, and Marquette, Mich., had 11.9 inches, Accuweather.com said.

A winter weather advisory was put in effect Friday for counties in northeast Ohio, with accumulations of as much as 4 inches expected by Friday night, WJW-TV, Cleveland, reported.

Bad road conditions were blamed for two deaths in Wisconsin and two in Iowa Wednesday, law enforcement officials said.

Blinding snow was blamed for a 30-car pileup on I-35 near Fort Dodge, Iowa, Sgt. Scott Bright of the Iowa State Patrol said Wednesday.

"When the winds start to blow, you can see about 5 feet in front of your vehicle" he said. "We've had major issues all over the place. We got around 10 to 12 inches throughout the state and it's a wet snow. We have around an inch of ice on our roadways."

School districts canceled classes Thursday throughout the region. Final exams at several campuses in the University of Wisconsin system were canceled as well.

Energy companies reported power outages affecting tens of thousands of customers.

The heaviest snow fell at a rate of as much as an inch an hour, AccuWeather.com reported. Gusts as high as 50 mph caused blowing snow, lowering the visibility to less than a quarter-mile.

The storm caused flight delays and cancellations at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee and at Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway airports.

At least 500 flights were canceled at Chicago's airports as of 8:30 p.m. Thursday. But operations were back on track Friday since the brunt of the storm missed the area.

The rough weather also affected flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport even though the Twin Cities received only a dusting of snow.

Westbound traffic on I-80 ground to a halt for several hours Thursday evening as the blizzard was winding down, The Des Moines Register reported. Some drivers who called the newspaper said they were stranded for nearly 6 hours on the highway between Grinnell and Brooklyn.

The temperatures in Florida were expected to dip into the 40s Friday night, with predicted wind chills in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties in the 30s, The Miami Herald reported.

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