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Blizzard hits U.S. Midwest, wreaks havoc with travel

December 20, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Fierce winds and snow smashed through the Midwest on Thursday, part of a weather system that has killed at least three and is setting the stage for miserable commuting and holiday travel through the heart of the nation.

The winter-like weather didn’t wait for Friday's official start of the season as blizzard conditions were reported in a wide swath from Kansas to Wisconsin. Across the South, high winds generated by the same storm system spawned tornado damage and warnings in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“A powerful system continues to bring significant, widespread impacts in the form of blizzard conditions, severe thunderstorms, damaging winds and fire weather conditions to the central United States,” the agency warned.

PHOTOS: Blizzard hits Midwest

Wisconsin declared a state of emergency to make preparations easier.

"I issued this executive order to make sure Wisconsin is prepared for whatever this winter storm may bring," Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. "Mobilizing our state agency resources during this storm will ensure we leave nothing to chance when it comes to protecting the citizens of Wisconsin."

A winter storm warning has been issued for the Chicago area, and the weather service was predicting winds up to 60 mph would hit sometime Thursday. Such deadly winds are certain to swirl the three to seven inches of expected snow into a ballet of obfuscation, leading to commuting problems.

The storm was also expected to hinder Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest. By Thursday morning, delays of as much as 30 minutes were reported and were expected to increase, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. FlightStats, which collects data from the FAA and airports, reported 142 cancellations and 131 delays at O'Hare.

The storm system began forming in the West earlier this week, blanketing the Rockies. Then, like Napoleon’s march on Moscow, it moved inexorably eastward, bringing misery along its route.

Nearly a foot of snow was reported in Iowa overnight with winds in excess of 50 miles an hour. Heavy snows were predicted for a band from Missouri to Milwaukee, according to the weather service. Poor visibility was expected and officials closed parts of Interstate 29 in Missouri and Interstate 80 in Nebraska.

In southeastern Wisconsin, officials said conditions led to at least two fatalities late Wednesday when a driver lost control of his car along a road, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago.

In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night. Search and rescue crews on snowmobiles found her buried in the snow.

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