Major winter storm plods through West, Midwest
Posted December 23, 2009 3:50 a.m. EST
Updated December 23, 2009 6:39 p.m. EST
DENVER — A major winter storm is promising to bring a white Christmas to parts of the West and Midwest, but not without threatening to cause long delays and tough driving conditions for countless holiday travelers.
The storm was expected to dump more than a foot of snow on parts of Colorado and southern Utah by midday Wednesday, and blow east into the Plains states through Christmas Day. Blizzard warnings were likely on Christmas Eve in Kansas.
"Pretty much the entire central and southern Rockies are going to get snow, and then it's going east and will drop more snow," said Stan Rose, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pueblo, Colo.
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds declared a state of emergency Tuesday. The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls warned of treacherous travel conditions from Wednesday through Friday night, calling the storm "life threatening."
The Nebraska State Patrol urged drivers to use extreme caution Wednesday morning when venturing out on the roads across the central third of the state because the roads are slick as freezing rain and snow had started to fall.
Travelers heading to N.C. need to plan for rock slide detour
Motorists traveling through western North Carolina should plan ahead and allow extra travel time over the holidays due to the closure of Interstate 40 west of Asheville near Tennessee, N.C. Department of Transportation officials said.
The rockslide has closed the interstate in both directions between Exit 20 (U.S. 276) 24 miles west of Asheville in North Carolina and Exit 421 (I-81 Interchange) east of Knoxville, Tenn. It will take several months for crews to reopen the highway.
Travelers can still reach western North Carolina via I-40 from the east and I-26 to the north and south. Exits 20 and 27 on I-40 provide access to popular destinations west of Asheville. The detour takes from 45 minutes to an hour.
The DOT has suspended construction on the state's roadways for the holiday season, so drivers should have an easier time traveling this holiday season, WRAL's traffic reporter Brian Shrader said Wednesday.
Winter weather makes driving hazardous
The Kansas Highway Patrol reported numerous crashes in the western part of the state, including a double fatality collision in Thomas County near Colby. The patrol said an eastbound car on icy Interstate 70 spun out of control Tuesday night, crossed the median and was struck by a westbound tractor-trailer, killing both people in the car.
A Colorado woman was killed Tuesday when her SUV apparently hit black ice and slid across a median in western Nebraska.
In Nevada, multiple wrecks were reported in and around Reno as snow blanketed the area Tuesday evening. No serious injuries were reported, the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper reported.
Blustery weather had already snarled traffic in Arizona, with blizzard-like conditions shutting down roads and causing a pileup involving 20 vehicles Tuesday. South of Phoenix, a dust storm set off a series of collisions that killed at least three people.
A tropical jet stream pumping in moisture from the storm's south was likely to cause plenty of snow as the storm headed into the Plains states.
A winter storm watch was in effect for most of southeast Colorado, the panhandle of Oklahoma and north Texas through Thursday. By Tuesday afternoon, light snow was falling in Salt Lake City. No major airport delays were reported there or in Denver, but holiday travelers across the region were warned to check with their airlines before arriving for flights.
Elsewhere, holiday travelers scrambled to adjust their plans before the snow storm hit.
Sarah McAnarney and her husband, Jeff, planned to leave Denver on Wednesday to visit family in Ozark, Mo., with their springer spaniel, Olive. But forecasts prompted them to skip a day of skiing in the Rockies and start driving a day early.
McAnarney said she was caught in a blizzard two weeks ago in the Rockies and needed four hours to drive 100 miles from Vail to Denver. She said she didn't want to repeat the experience.
"I was driving through a whiteout," she said Tuesday at a truck stop east of Topeka, Kan. "You couldn't see over your headlights."
Craig Rueschhoff, 35, and his girlfriend, Brenna Larson, in Des Moines, Iowa said they had planned to drive 210-miles to Columbus, Neb., to visit his parents, then on to visit Larson's family in western Iowa, but were thinking of canceling the annual trip.
"We've had both my mom and her mom encourage us not to come if the weather is too bad," he said. "They wouldn't feel bad if we didn't come. We've gotten their blessing."
The winter blast follow a weekend storm that dropped record snowfall and interrupted holiday shopping and travel on the East Coast. Delays from that storm sparked an unruly crowd that included passengers still on standby Tuesday at the Delta Air Lines terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Police were called to help with crowd control.
Rose said holiday revelers in the West and Midwest should worry about the cold as well as the snow. Temperatures across Colorado on Christmas were not expected to get out of the 20s, with single-digits expected in the mountains.
"It is going to be cold to begin with, and then it's going to get even colder," Rose said.