Snow clogs highways and runways in Plains, while flooding threatens East

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter weather disrupts travel in Plains and East

OMAHA, Neb. — Drifting snow and cold rain that have plagued much of the country for days stranded drivers and airline passengers Saturday trying to get home after Christmas.

Storms from Texas to the Upper Midwest that dumped 23.9 inches of snow in Grand Forks, N.D., and 18 inches near Norfolk, Neb., began subsiding, but blowing and drifting snow hampered visibility in many areas.

Several motorists abandoned their vehicles on snow-covered roads in northeast Nebraska. Ten to 20 vehicles were stuck near Norfolk, but state troopers do not believe any motorists were stranded.

Higher temperatures and rains in the East began melting and washing away last week’s record-setting snowfalls, threatening the region with flooding.

A woman and her teenage daughter in Middletown, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, were rescued from a rain-swollen creek after their SUV went off the road Saturday. Rescue workers found the 14-year-old clinging to a log; her mother was trapped in the vehicle.

Authorities in southeast Missouri were searching for a woman who washed away in a ditch on Christmas Eve as heavy rains showered the region. Witnesses saw her in the water west of Powe, Mo., and tried to assist her, said Sgt. Jody Laramore of the state Highway Patrol.

In Chicago, one of the nation’s busiest travel hubs, snow and ice along with rain on the East Coast canceled or delayed more than 450 flights.

Shannon Fullmer drove two hours from his home in Freeport, Ill., to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Saturday to pick up his 12-year-old son. But the flight from New Jersey was delayed more than three hours.

The 38-year-old waited in a long line to get through security so that he could wait by the gate where his son’s plane was expected to arrive about 7:30 p.m. CST.

Fullmer said he would wait “as long as I have to.”

“It doesn’t do any good to get angry,” he said.

A few dozen flights were delayed and a few canceled Saturday afternoon in southern Wisconsin. The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory through Saturday evening. Three to five inches of snow was expected by Sunday morning.

Flights also were delayed at the three major airports in the New York area, which was getting rain and patchy fog. Some travelers arriving at Newark Liberty International had delays of nearly 2½ hours.

Most New York area delays were weather-related but some were worsened by stricter security precautions after an airplane bombing attempt in Detroit, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area’s airports.

Transportation officials closed a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 70 between Goodland, Kan., and Burlington, Colo. Officials had closed interstate highways in Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming, but many were reopening Saturday. Officials reopened all of Interstate 80 across Nebraska, but officials warned that poor road conditions continue.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln marching band canceled its bus trip to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. The band had been scheduled to perform Wednesday as the Cornhuskers face the Arizona Wildcats.

In South Dakota, state troopers assisted 182 people who were stranded in their vehicles or needed help getting through snowy roads, Col. Dan Mosteller said.

Hundreds of customers remained without power for a third day in southeastern Nebraska and south-central South Dakota. Mark Becker of the Nebraska Public Power District said high winds could cause additional power failures during the weekend.

Chad Omitt, a meteorologist in Topeka, Kan., said the storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes, including in Topeka where about 15,000 were without power at the peak.

His own sons — ages 9, 6 and 4 — opened their presents by the light of flashlights and candles after waking up around 5:45 a.m. on Christmas morning in a chilly house that was without electricity.

“I don’t know how enjoyable it was for them,” he said.

South Dakota officials reported several roof collapses from the weight of the snow, including a livestock barn near Baltic, where at least 25 cattle were trapped and some of them killed.

In St. Paul, Minn., a large piece of the ceiling crashed into a cell phone store kiosk Saturday morning at the Maplewood Mall. A store executive blamed heavy snow on the roof. No one was injured.

Meanwhile, in the East, rain and higher temperatures helped to melt snow in areas where as much as 2 feet fell last weekend. But freezing temperatures were expected overnight in parts of New England. A freezing rain advisory was extended through 6 a.m. Sunday for parts of western Massachusetts.

In New Jersey, rain that began falling Christmas night was expected to continue through Sunday morning. Flood warnings were in effect for most of southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area through the late afternoon.

Winter weather has been blamed for more than 20 deaths across the country in the past week. One of the latest was an 81-year-old Iowa man whose body was found in a ditch Friday after his pickup truck got stuck in the snow and he tried to walk home.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee, Verena Dobnik in New York, M.L. Johnson and Karen Hawkins in Chicago, Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J., and Bob Salsberg in Boston.

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