Whether it Means Tomorrow's End of the World, Weather Ends Today's Travel in...by Jana Ritter - Published: 12/20/2012
It may not be enough to mark the end of the world quite yet, but the first blizzard of the season is already ending many things across the upper Midwest. From power lines in Nebraska, to schools in Wisconsin, to a 30-vehicle pile-up ending two lives in Iowa and highways shutting down in between, the holiday season is literally being taken by storm.
A storm that began in the Rockies earlier in the week, wreaking its havoc across the Midwest and is expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before heading up into Canada. While blizzard warnings were issued Thursday for portions of Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, the hardest hit regions are parts of Wisconsin and virtually all of Iowa. Reporting nearly 100 accidents by late Thursday morning, including a 30-car pileup on I-35 killing two people and 14 jack knifed semi-trailers shutting down I-80 near Des Moines, as well as over 43,000 residents now without power, Iowa has already declared a state of emergency. The Iowa National Guard has deployed 80 troops to help motorists stranded from last night's 13 inches of snow.
Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has also declared a state of emergency, putting the National Guard and state patrol on standby. With 7 inches of snow already reported in the southern part of the state and as much as another foot of wet, heavy snow expected in regions throughout, accompanied by 50 mph winds and blowing snow, the Wisconsin State Patrol and National Weather Service urged people to avoid traveling. In Omaha, Nebraska, utility crews struggled overnight in near whiteout conditions, to restore power to 38,500 customers and treacherous travel conditions have forced Nebraska authorities to close much of the I-80 throughout the state as well.
With the highways closing down and the DOT issuing a tow ban, ditches are full of abandoned trucks and semi-trailers, rest stops are overfilling with truck drivers pulling off the road and truck stops are filled with stranded motorists of every kind. Wayne Churchill and his sister, both from Phoenix, spent the night in their big rig parked at the Altoona, Iowa Flying J truck stop, only 20 miles from their destination. “About 45 miles back up the road is when the weather started getting nasty,” Churchill explains. “We watched two or three cars go into the ditch. I watched one try to pull over onto the shoulder of the road. His wheels weren't moving but he was still sliding and he slid right off into the grass.”
Des Moines truck driver, Tim Thrasher, experienced similar whiteout conditions during a 30 miles trip that took him over 3 hours and forced him to stay at an Altoona hotel Wednesday night. “I couldn't go more than 20 (mph). Cars, trucks, everything in the ditch,” he said. “It's been a few years since we've had a storm this bad. We're used to bad weather but not this bad. It's just not worth it to try to drive when it's like that.”
The blizzard like conditions are expected to affect highway travel for at least another day.