The Heat Is Online

Massive Snows Cripple Midwestern US

Christmas storm strands travelers in Midwest

 Slow-moving system blamed for 19 deaths expected to bring ice to East

 The Associated Press, Fri., Dec . 25, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY - Residents across the Midwest and the Plains who made it home for Christmas were digging out on Friday after a fierce snowstorm while those who spent the night in airports and shelters tried to resume their journeys. Meteorologists warned that roads across the region remained dangerous.
The National Weather Service said blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin through Saturday. The storm had already dumped significant snow across the region, including a record 14 inches in Oklahoma City and 11 inches in Duluth, Minn., on Thursday.
Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 21 deaths this week as the storm lumbered across the country from the Southwest. Ice storm warnings and winter weather advisories were issued for parts of the East Coast on Friday, but the region was largely spared.
Paul Mews, who drove from Faribault, Minn., to a relative's home in Plum City, Wis., on Friday morning, said the first 15 minutes of the 80-mile trip were clear, but a surge of heavy snowfall produced a stretch of near-whiteout conditions.
"It was snow-pocalypse. It was wicked," said Mews, 25. "We thought about turning around and going back."
They decided to continue when the surge passed minutes later.
Christmas in the truck stop
Others weren't as lucky.
Army Sgt. Mark Matthey was spending Friday night at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Sioux Falls, S.D., after Interstate 90 closed. Matthey, 26, left Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday for his hometown of Spokane, Wash., in hopes of making it by late Friday or early Saturday.
Instead, he spent Friday afternoon drinking coffee, watching TV and making friends at the truck stop. He planned to find a spot to sleep on the floor or in the cab of his truck.
Matthey said he and the other travelers were in decent spirits.
"Everybody has the attitude that you have to play the cards you were dealt," he said. "No use in getting upset about something you can't control."
Interstates also were closed in North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. Meteorologists warned that massive snow drifts and blustery winds could cause whiteouts across the northern Plains. Officials urged travelers to stay home and pack emergency kits if they had to set out.
Rescues along Texas highways
In Texas, volunteer firefighters and sheriff's deputies rescued hundreds of people stranded along Interstate 44 and Texas State Highway 287 near Wichita Falls. The area recorded up to 13 inches of snow, said Doug Speheger, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
"It's really been horrible," Wichita County Sheriff David Duke said. "Although we live in North Texas and get a lot of cold weather, we weren't prepared for the significant amount of snow that we've received."
Only two of the sheriff department's vehicles have four-wheel drive, so rescuers used their own pickups and the heavy 5-ton brush trucks normally used to fight fires to get to motorists, many of whom ran out of gas while they were stuck in traffic stalled by the storm.
"It was exciting at first to wake up and go, 'Oh, this will be great. We'll have a white Christmas,'" Wichita Falls Mayor Lanham Lyne said. "Then it kept snowing. As the roads became impassable, then we started to worry."
Even residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area briefly experienced a white Christmas, their first in more than 80 years. Not since Dec. 25, 1926 — when 6 inches fell on Dallas and Collin counties — had the area had a true postcard-looking Christmas.
But by late afternoon, the 3 inches of snow measured at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on Christmas Eve was all but melted.
Winds were gusting from 45 mph to 60 mph across the Dakotas and Nebraska on Friday. Crews were working to restore power to thousands of customers in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa.
The storm also grounded flights at South Dakota's biggest airports. Sioux Falls Regional Airport was closed until Saturday morning at the earliest, manager Dan Letellier told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Flights also were canceled at Rapid City Regional Airport and Pierre Regional Airport. The total number of flights affected wasn't immediately available.
About 200 people were stuck overnight at Oklahoma's largest airport, which closed Thursday afternoon after several inches of snow clogged runways, said Mark Kranenburg, director of the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. The airport reopened Friday morning, but only one runway was operational.
Most of the stranded passengers were gone by Friday afternoon. While some were able to catch flights, many simply went home. Kranenburg predicted it would be two or three days before all three runways were open and flights resumed as scheduled.
The 14 inches of snow in Oklahoma City broke a record for the day of 2.5 inches set back in 1914.
The previous record for Christmas Eve in Duluth, which has gotten more than 22 inches in two days, was 3 inches in 1893, said Kevin Kraujalis, a National Weather Service meteorologist. By the time the storm is over, it could be one of the 10 worst in Duluth's recorded history.
With heavy winds producing snow drifts as deep as 5 feet, "it's awful, it's just awful," Kraujalis said. "It's a big workout just walking outside to check my weather equipment."
Since Tuesday, icy roads have been blamed for accidents that killed at least seven people in Nebraska, five people in Oklahoma, four in Kansas, two in Minnesota and one each in North Dakota, Missouri and New Mexico.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Massive storm snarls Midwest holiday

The Associated Press, Dec . 25, 2009
A fierce Christmas storm dumped more snow and ice across the nation's midsection Friday after stranding travelers as highways and airports closed and leaving many to celebrate the holiday just where they were.
Meteorologists predicted the slow-moving storm would glaze highways in the East with ice through Christmas night and that gusty thunderstorms would hamper the South. An ice storm warning was issued for parts of West Virginia and the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina and Virginia, while a wind chill advisory cautioned of temperatures as low as 30 below zero in Montana.
The National Weather Service warned that blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin on Christmas Day and into the evening.
A sheriff's deputy in central Iowa's Guthrie County, where 6 inches of snow fell since Thursday night, said he saw only snowplows on his way to work Friday.
"It's going to be one of them days," Deputy Jesse Swenson said. "Everybody wanted a white Christmas — and they got it."
In Minnesota, Mike Ruhland, who was shoveling his driveway in Minneapolis on Friday morning, said he hadn't made much progress after two hours.
"I waited too long to start shoveling. For two days, it was the white powdery snow, and now it's the heavy, thick stuff," he said. "It's a pain in the butt, but at least I'm getting my exercise for the month."
The National Weather Service said the storm posed a threat to life and property. Officials warned travelers to stay home and pack emergency kits if they had to set out. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency.
Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 18 deaths this week as the storm moved east across the country from the Southwest. Driving became so treacherous that authorities closed interstates in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas to prevent further collisions.
Jonathan Cannon was spending Thursday night at a Baptist church in Goldsby, Okla., after being stuck for several hours on Interstate 35. He had left Sherman, Texas, a little after noon hoping to join his wife in Edmond, Okla. — a trip that usually takes about three hours.
Cannon said about 200 people — plus the dogs many travelers had with them in their cars — were in the church Thursday night, with more possibly on the way. He wasn't sure if he would be able to finish his journey on Friday.
"This is mine and my wife's first Christmas together, so she's not very excited," he said.
About 100 passengers and the same number of workers were stuck at Oklahoma's largest airport, which closed Thursday afternoon after several inches of snow clogged runways. At least 70 flights were canceled at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. Director Mark Kranenburg told The Oklahoman that the airport re-opened Friday morning, with one of three runways operational, though many flights remained delayed or canceled.
Robert Smith of Denver was forced to cancel plans to fly home on Christmas Eve after visiting family members and friends in Oklahoma City. Smith said he was accustomed to snowstorms — and that none had ever hampered his travel plans.
"We are going to wait it out," he said. "We went to the grocery store to get stuff. We've got the generators ready just in case we need to use them."
Other stranded motorists took shelter at a high school gymnasium. Eric Adams, a U.S. Mail contractor from Memphis, Tenn., sought shelter at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Sayre in far western Oklahoma after strong winds caused his tractor-trailer to sway.
Crews were working to restore power to thousands of customers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
Oklahoma City had received 14 inches of snow by Thursday night, breaking a record set back in 1914 of 2.5 inches. Winds gusted to 50 mph in central Kansas, while winds gusting at up to 65 mph in Texas drifted the snow as deep as 5 feet in some areas.
"The wind is killer, especially when you're empty," trucker Jim Reed said during a stop in Omaha, Neb. "Anything that's boxed, like a refrigerator trailer like I have, becomes like a giant sail in the wind."
The Star-Telegram said the Dallas-Fort Worth area was experiencing its first White Christmas in more than 80 years. While the area had a sprinkling of holiday snow in 2004 and 1997, the last time it experienced "a true, New England-style dose of snow on Christmas Day was Dec. 25, 1926," the newspaper reported.
Some churches canceled Christmas Eve services, while others saw sharply lower attendance.
"I don't think God wants anyone to get killed or break a hip or break a knee or something," said the Rev. Joseph Mirowski of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration in Mason City, Iowa.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.