Blizzard Conditions Disrupt Travel Across Northern and Central Plains

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Nearly a million people across the Northern and Central Plains were under blizzard or ice storm warnings on Tuesday, and one person was killed in a traffic accident on Christmas, as heavy snow, freezing rain and powerful winds created treacherous road conditions that forecasters said could last through early Wednesday.

A blizzard warning affecting more than 550,000 people in parts of five states on Tuesday afternoon — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming — would be in effect until early Wednesday morning in part of the region, where areas could receive as much as six inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 60 m.p.h., the National Weather Service said.

A storm is a blizzard when it contains large amounts of snow, winds over 35 m.p.h. and visibility of less than a quarter mile for at least three hours.

An 86-year-old woman in Kansas was killed on Monday evening after a man driving a pick up truck on state highway 156 lost control on the icy, snowy road and slid into oncoming traffic, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.

The woman, identified as Evelyn D. Reece of Wichita, Kan., was riding in an SUV that was struck by the truck, the authorities said. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Three people were taken to a hospital for injuries.

Nearly 400,000 people were under an ice storm warning Tuesday afternoon in the Dakotas and a slice of western Minnesota. A dangerous mix of sleet and freezing rain was expected to blanket the Dakotas and northern Minnesota on Tuesday, bringing ice accumulation totals above a half inch and creating hazardous travel conditions, according to the Weather Service.

As the storm exits the Plains, a wintry mix will likely follow into a portion of the Mississippi Valley on Wednesday.

Parts of Nebraska and South Dakota had recorded about four inches of snow as of Tuesday morning, though strong winds prevented accurate readings, said Amanda Viken, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in North Platte, Neb. Some towns in southeastern South Dakota had received up to a foot of snow since Monday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Before the storm tapers off on Tuesday night into Wednesday, up to four more inches of snow are expected in western South Dakota, western Nebraska, far eastern Wyoming and northeastern Colorado, the National Weather Service said. In areas where snowfall has stopped or slowed, freezing temperatures and wind gusts of more than 55 miles per hour could cause icy roads and whiteout conditions throughout the day, forecasters said.

“It’s pretty slick out, and the visibility restrictions that we’re seeing with this strong wind aren’t helping,” Ms. Viken said.

Snow showers and blustery north winds were sweeping across northwest Nebraska on Tuesday, causing visibility to be below one mile in some areas, the National Weather Service said on social media.

The Lincoln County Emergency Management in Nebraska said on Tuesday that Interstate 80 was being closed in both directions between Paxton and Big Springs because of white-out conditions and accidents.

“Be safe and take it slow if you’re traveling today,” the Nebraska State Patrol said on social media on Tuesday.

On Monday, the South Dakota Department of Transportation said in a news release that conditions were “approaching near zero visibility” on roads covered in snow and ice, prompting officials to close parts of Interstate 90 through Tuesday morning.

In Kansas, state transportation officials temporarily closed Interstate 70 from Goodland, in northwestern Kansas, west to the Colorado state line and warned that roads were “partially covered or snow-packed” on Tuesday morning. Interstate 70 was reopened, but parts of other roads remain closed, according to transportation officials.

Troopers responded to nearly 150 “weather-related incidents” on roadways in Nebraska on Monday, according to Cody Thomas, a spokesman for the Nebraska State Patrol.

An accident involving several jackknifed tractor-trailers forced a section of eastbound Interstate 80 near York, Neb., to close for about three hours on Monday afternoon, the Nebraska State Patrol said. There were no injuries in the accident, which was partly caused by blowing snow and slick road conditions, Mr. Thomas said in a statement.

Forecasters warned that power outages were possible in the affected areas as strong winds could damage trees and knock down power lines.

On Tuesday night, about 17,000 customers were without power in North Dakota, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks the utility industry. The North Dakota Department of Transportation advised residents in the southern parts of the state to avoid all travel on Tuesday because of icy roads.

The impact on air travel appeared to be relatively modest at the outset of the storm but worsened throughout the day. About 126 flights within, into or out of the United States on Tuesday had been canceled as of the afternoon, according to FlightAware. About 4,300 flights across the country had been delayed.

Holiday travelers who planned to hit the road on Tuesday should take caution on the road, said Matthew Meyers, a meteorologist at the Weather Service office in Sioux Falls, S.D. In the southeastern part of the state, temperatures were expected to remain below freezing, causing much of the rain that had fallen overnight to refreeze.

“If they can they should take it pretty slow,” he said. “It’s going to be slick out there.”

Eduardo Medina and Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.





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