Ice storm snarls traffic, downs power lines, forces school closures in nation’s midsection

By Melanie S. Welte, AP
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ice storm snarls traffic in nation’s midsection

DES MOINES, Iowa — A storm brought freezing rain and ice to the nation’s midsection on Wednesday, causing widespread power outages and forcing school closures in several states, and contributing to at least one traffic fatality in South Dakota.

Ice up to a ½-inch thick coated parts of western and northern Iowa, turning streets and sidewalks into near skating rinks.

Dave Nerad, a store manager at the Active Endeavors in Iowa City, said he had several customers waiting at the door when he opened at 10 a.m.

“They came in looking for Yaktrax, stabilizers, anything that’s going to keep them upright on the ice,” Nerad said, referring to the steel-bottomed shoe attachments.

Todd Heitkamp, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sioux Falls, S.D., said driving conditions were treacherous in parts of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Authorities were also warning drivers about icy conditions in parts of Minnesota and Illinois.

Sioux Falls police Sgt. David Erickson said they were dealing with “crash after crash,” even though road crews were out sanding streets. South Dakota authorities were advising against driving along interstates 29 and 90.

A 23-year-old man, Bradley Deutsch of Luverne, Minn., was killed after his vehicle rolled in a ditch off Interstate 90 near Brandon, along the state’s border with Minnesota, the Minnehaha County sheriff’s office said.

Iowa’s two largest utilities said thousands of customers were without power Wednesday morning as temperatures hovered just below the freezing mark.

MidAmerican Energy had about 16,000 customers without power, with most in Des Moines, Fort Dodge and in western Iowa from Sioux City to Council Bluffs. Alliant Energy reported outages in northwest Iowa, central and southern Iowa.

In southwest Iowa, most of Atlantic, which has 7,200 residents, was without power. The main problem was downed power lines, said Cass County Deputy John Westering.

“We have 70-80 percent of the town without power. We’re on a generator here at the courthouse right now,” he said.

Westering said traveling wasn’t much of a problem in Cass County, but drivers had to proceed slowly — if they could even get into their ice-coated cars.

“You can’t hardly get your car doors open, I know that.” he said.

Several northeast Nebraska school districts canceled classes or started them late on Wednesday, but police said the state had avoided the traffic accidents being reported elsewhere.

Dixon County Sheriff Dean Chase said people in his county either stayed home or slowed down for safety, so he didn’t have any serious accidents to investigate Wednesday. Nebraska State Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins said she was unaware of any fatal accidents.

In Illinois, dozens of accidents were reported on icy roads in the central part of the state on Wednesday, and several western districts canceled classes for the day. The utility Ameren reported fewer than 2,000 customers without power.

The National Weather Service said the freezing rain was to continue in Iowa into early Thursday, and an ice storm warning remained in effect for the state into Thursday morning.

Iowa had already endured three major snow storms this winter, and there was still more than 2 feet of snow on the ground in some areas.

“We’ve had our share of winter, that’s for sure. I think everybody is ready for springtime” said meteorologist Kenny Podrazik of the weather service in Johnston.

Temperatures were expected to remain below freezing into Friday and to warm up over the weekend.

Temperatures on Saturday were forecast to be in the lower 40s — with more rain, which could potentially cause flooding as the snow melts.

Associated Press writers Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Neb., and Patrick Condon in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS the spelling of “Yaktrax.”)

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