Blizzard cripples travel across nation’s midsection

Blizzard cripples travel across nation’s midsection
Nebraska State Patrol

A blizzard crippled travel across much of the nation’s midsection Sunday on what normally would be one of the busiest travel days of the year.

In Nebraska, the State Patrol responded to about a dozen crashes and performed more than 50 motorist assists from midnight through about noon. At least one of the crashes involved an injury, when a semitrailer truck struck another one that had jackknifed near Waverly. The driver of the second truck was taken to a hospital in Lincoln. This and other crashes along Interstate 80 prompted a nearly three-hour closure of the westbound lanes in that area. The crash occurred about 8:30 a.m. and reopened by 11:15 a.m.

Emergency workers transported a number of travelers to area hotels. In Jefferson County, a few motorists got stranded, according to reports provided to the National Weather Service.

Mychi Miller, a dispatcher for Richardson County, Nebraska, said that drivers involved in crashes on U.S. Highway 75, required help getting to lodging.

“We’ve worked quite a few accidents today,” she said. “It’s been pretty slick — whiteout.”

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a state of emergency declaration as much of Interstate 70 was closed and other roads remained impassable.

In Iowa, travel wasn’t advised on Interstate 29 from about Pacific Junction south into Missouri. Roads across the southern portion of Iowa were snow-covered, and strong winds created dangerous travel conditions, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. Whiteout conditions and drifting snow left several travelers at a standstill on Interstate-35 for hours.

Travel also was discouraged in northern Missouri. The National Weather Service office in Kansas City advised people who had family still in town to keep them there another day due to the dangerous conditions. “If you have family in town for Thanksgiving with plans to travel back home (Sunday), invite them to stay one more night. Driving through blizzard conditions is no way to end the holiday weekend,” the weather service tweeted Sunday morning. Conditions were so bad that Nebraska Furniture Mart closed its Kansas City location at 3:30 Sunday, no matter the fact that it was Black Friday weekend.

A good many drivers had already heeded weather warnings and headed home on Saturday, a day early, to avoid the storm.

Those traveling by air didn’t have that choice. Roughly 600 flights headed to or from locations in the U.S. had been canceled as of 2 p.m. Sunday, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Iowa Department of Roads Snow Plow at Sidney/Nebraska City exit on Interstate 29. (Courtesy Photo)

Whiteout conditions were reported in portions of southeast Nebraska, with many roads completely snow covered, said Becky Kern, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley. Winds were gusting up to 40 mph.

Kern said the wind would largely die down about nightfall, and then the temperature would plummet. Overnight lows are forecast in the single digits to the midteens in southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

Officially, Omaha received 1 inch of snow based on readings at Eppley Airfield as did Valley, Nebraska. In Lincoln, 3 inches was recorded. Omaha’s peak wind gust was 51 mph at 7:02 a.m., Sunday, she said.

Further south in Nebraska, toward the heart of the storm, snow totals were higher. Fairbury recorded 8.5 inches of snow with two-foot drifts, she said.

The National Weather Service said snow of 6 to 12 inches was possible in parts of Iowa into Illinois.

Several churches canceled services or advised members to use their own judgment before venturing out.

The precipitation is expected to freeze, Kern said, as temperatures continue to drop. The temperature was 26 degrees at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, with winds gusting up to 40 mph producing a wind-chill factor of 10 degrees.

“Any surface, whether it is a sidewalk or driveway, will be slick,” she said. “It’s going to freeze.”

World-Herald News Service
Nebraska State Patrol
Nebraska State Patrol
Nebraska State Patrol
Photo Courtesy: Emily Draus Wolken