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Archive for Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wintry blast grips nation’s midsection

December 26, 2009

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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 today. 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.

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 today.

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.

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.

Only two of the Wichita County Sheriff’s 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.

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.

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