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Christmas Day blizzards, ice storms to snarl travel in northern Plains

Travel could become nearly impossible along the I-80 and I-90 corridors into Tuesday as a storm unleashes intense snow and howling winds across the Plains.

By Accuweather.com
Blizzard warnings marked Christmas Day in the northern High Plains as roads became snow-covered in parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Colorado. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Blizzard warnings marked Christmas Day in the northern High Plains as roads became snow-covered in parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Colorado. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 25 (UPI) -- A storm that dropped a fresh blanket of snow across the interior West over the weekend began strengthening across the middle of the nation on Christmas Day, threatening all-out blizzards in some places.

Snow-covered roads brought treacherous driving conditions to the northern High Plains as blizzard warnings went up across a wide swath of Nebraska, parts of neighboring South Dakota, portions of northern Kansas as well as eastern Colorado.

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Accuweather forecasters predicted windblown snow in these areas will make it difficult to see on the roadways at times while freezing rain will turn streets and sidewalks into naturally-made skating rinks farther to the north and east.

"This storm arrived just in time to bring a white Christmas for some in the Rockies and Plains," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tyler Roys said.

Since the first flakes from the storm began falling across the Intermountain West on Saturday, 3-6 inches of snow has accumulated across some of the highest terrain of Utah and Wyoming, with 6-12 inches of snow reported across some of the highest terrain of Colorado and New Mexico. Snow coated the ground in Denver Sunday morning with slippery travel reported along Interstate 25 and I-70.

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In far eastern Colorado, in the town of Burlington, 8 inches of snow was reported in three hours on Sunday, with drifts as high as 1-2 feet.

While snow lovers may have enjoyed the picturesque landscapes on Christmas Day, the timing of the snow is not ideal for travel across the region.

The heaviest snow is expected to focus west of I-29 around the I-80 and I-90 corridors of Nebraska and South Dakota. In this zone, more than a foot of snow can fall with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 24 inches.

"The duration of the storm will add to the wintry feel through midweek for any holiday activities," Roys explained.

Gusty winds, especially as the storm strengthens into Christmas night, are expected to contribute to difficult travel and create an all-out blizzard for some locations that will last beyond the holiday. Widespread blowing and drifting snow will significantly hamper visibility on the roadways.

In the heaviest snow bands, snow can accumulate several inches in just a few hours, making it difficult for road crews to keep streets and interstates clear. Motorists who are out at the height of the storm may run the risk of becoming stranded.

Ice to threaten dangerous travel, power outages

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AccuWeather meteorologists say the storm poses an ice risk to the east and north of the heaviest snowfall.

Freezing rain can threaten communities near Sioux Falls, S.D., northward to Fargo, N.D., and northern Minnesota through Tuesday. Residents and visitors traveling to their holiday destinations will want to use extreme caution as roads that may appear wet can be coated with a dangerous layer of ice.

By early Monday morning, the National Weather Service had issued Ice Storm Warnings for areas in eastern North Dakota and northeastern South Dakota.

Enough ice can accumulate for tree branches to snap and weigh down power lines, perhaps resulting in power outages.

By the middle of the week, the massive storm will unravel over the center of the country, leaving behind nuisance snow showers and flurries in its wake.

In the final days of December and 2023, most of the Plains states look dry and chilly going into New Year's weekend.

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