A winter storm fueled by heavy snow, freezing rain, and strong winds raced across the Plains and upper Midwest, causing hazardous travel conditions during the busy holiday week.
The storm’s powerful wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph, with isolated gusts of up to 75 mph, created blizzard conditions and made travel “difficult to near impossible,” according to the National Weather Service.
Blizzard warnings were issued for sections of Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming on Monday and Tuesday. Blizzards form when blowing snow and strong winds combine for at least three hours, reducing visibility to a quarter-mile or less.
As of Tuesday night, a large chunk of highway in western Nebraska was closed due to limited visibility. According to the state Department of Transportation, westbound Interstate 80 and Highway 30 were closed from Kearney, in the heart of the state, to the Wyoming state line, a distance of nearly 270 miles. In addition, the roadways were closed eastbound from Wyoming to North Platte, a distance of nearly 179 miles, according to the transportation department and state police.
According to the National Weather Service, parts of South Dakota received a foot or more of snow, including 13.8 inches in Gregory and 12 inches in Deadwood and Spearfish. Aurora, Colorado, received 7.5 inches of snow, while Norfolk, Nebraska, received 7 inches, according to the weather service.
“Widespread travel disruptions are likely across the region,” the weather agency predicted. Residents were advised to avoid traveling, but if they must, to bring survival kits and to stay in their vehicles in case they were stuck.
Blizzard and ice storm warnings were set to expire from late Tuesday to early Wednesday across the Central and Northern Plains. Light to moderate snow, rain, and freezing rain are still possible in parts of the region through early Wednesday morning.
Wednesday’s snowfall will be mostly done by the end of the day over the Midwest, the freezing rain will be done over the Northern Plains, and the threat of excessive rainfall will be over the Appalachian Mountains.
Wednesday, there is a slight danger of heavy rainfall, or level 1 of 4, for areas of the I-95 corridor in the northern Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York City are among the major cities under peril from flooding. On Wednesday, travel and aircraft delays are anticipated in major Northeast cities.
‘I told you I wanted a white Christmas…’
Bradley Sanders, a traveler, told CNN that he was going from Denver to Chicago on Tuesday when the blizzard struck, so he stopped near Ogallala, Nebraska, to charge his car about midday. He soon discovered that the roadway had been closed, so he booked a room for the night. He stated that there was a line of stranded drivers waiting for a room at the motel.
Amanda Dawn Benitez, who was also stranded in Ogallala, told CNN on Tuesday. She was driving with her husband, kid, and 2-pound chihuahua from Twin Falls, Idaho, to McDonough, Georgia. Her spouse is a truck driver, so they’ve been traveling in his 18-wheeler to their destination on Tuesday night. Benitez, who is from Alabama, stated that she has never seen that much snow in her life.
“I said I wanted a white Christmas, but I didn’t want a blizzard,” she was quoted as saying. Benitez stated that her son and chihuahua are having fun in the snow.
On Tuesday, the main winter weather threat moved from snow to ice in some locations.
On Tuesday, a mix of sleet and freezing rain threatened to bring sporadic power outages and potentially hazardous roadways and walkways across the northern Plains and upper Midwest. Through Tuesday evening, portions of the Dakotas and Minnesota remained under ice storm warnings.
The state’s Department of Transportation has recommended residents in 14 North Dakota counties to avoid any travel on Tuesday due to poor winter road conditions. The state’s westbound lanes of Interstate 94 were stopped Tuesday morning due to “multiple traffic incidents.”
The National Weather Service reported freezing rain from ice storms in the Dakotas on Tuesday, including one inch in Verona, North Dakota.
The storm was predicted to weaken throughout the central United States on Tuesday night and lose most of its strength early Wednesday. The Plains may see a few snow showers or a mix of rain and wet snow, but widespread, disruptive precipitation will end by midweek.
On Christmas Day, accidents and road closures began
On Monday, dangerous conditions began for parts of the central United States as the storm delivered a lethal mix of snow, ice, and strong winds.
Cars collided and slid off roadways in Nebraska on Monday, while tractor-trailers jackknifed and became stranded on westbound Interstate 80 near York in the morning and early afternoon, according to the Nebraska State Patrol. Heavy snowfall lashed the Dakotas further north. According to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, I-90 was stopped in both directions from Monday night until Tuesday morning for a more than 200-mile length between Mitchell and Wall.
The eastbound lanes between Wall and Rapid City (approximately 50 miles) were also closed, according to the department. The westbound lanes were anticipated to be open on Tuesday “unless weather and road conditions change.”
“Drivers should not take secondary roads to avoid Interstate closures.” Significantly reduced visibility and blizzard-like conditions will make travel extremely hazardous throughout this storm system, according to the agency.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol reported many crashes in Watertown due to ice and snow on the roads.
“Please drive slowly, avoid using cruise control, and always wear your seatbelt.” “Snow plows are out; please give them plenty of space to work,” the South Dakota Highway Patrol urged people.