Spring Storm Hinders Travel in Midwest

Associated Press
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS, March 21 -- The spring snowstorm that buried parts of Nebraska under more than two feet of snow swept through the Ohio Valley on Tuesday, shutting down schools and making travel tough for voters headed for the polls for the Illinois primary election.

As much as two inches of snow an hour fell in some areas of Illinois and Indiana, and wind gusted to 40 mph, weather officials said.

"Our weather's terrible. The highways are terrible. It's not the highway department's fault -- they just can't keep up with it," said Sheriff's Deputy Trevor Lahey of Morgan County, Ill. He answered more than 50 calls Tuesday morning about cars in ditches west of Springfield.

In Colorado, Interstate 70 reopened early Tuesday; its eastbound lanes between Denver and the Kansas line had been shut down for nearly 18 hours because of heavy snow. Interstate 80 also reopened Tuesday across Nebraska.

The storm dumped as much as 28 inches of snow on central Nebraska on Monday, 20 inches in parts of South Dakota and half a foot in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Wind piled the snow into drifts seven feet high in parts of South Dakota and Nebraska. Farther south, heavy rain caused flooding in the Dallas area.

By midmorning Tuesday, more than seven inches of snow had fallen on parts of western Indiana, and 25 mph winds created whiteout conditions in some areas, the National Weather Service said. Snowfall in parts of Illinois topped 10 inches.

Indiana State Police reported dozens of accidents. School districts in central Illinois and western and central Indiana closed for the day.

The weather was expected to contribute to low voter turnout for Illinois' primary election, which includes gubernatorial and congressional races.

The storm hit after an unseasonably warm winter in which snowfall was 30 to 50 percent below normal in Indiana. Through mid-March, Indianapolis had used about two-thirds of its $4.6 million snow-removal budget, officials said.

Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi said the erratic weather probably will continue, in part because of the impact of La Niña, the mild cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean that often coincides with stronger and more frequent hurricanes, a wetter Pacific Northwest and a drier South.

"I think the important feature of the upcoming season is not just going to be a really cold or really warm season ahead, but the swings we are going have," he said. "Some days will really feel like winter again and some days we'll start thinking that maybe that summer is already here."

Schools remained closed for a second day Tuesday in parts of the Plains states. The Nebraska Legislature canceled its Tuesday meeting, and the South Dakota Legislature rescheduled Monday's meetings.

At least five deaths were blamed on the storm in Colorado, Nebraska and Texas.

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