A Wintry Blow to the Nation's Midsection

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006

CHICAGO. Dec. 1 -- A surprisingly early wintry storm rolled across the central United States, stranding airline passengers, shutting schools and leaving hundreds of thousands of households in darkness because of ice and wet snow.

Authorities in football-loving Oklahoma even postponed the high school playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

Dallas encountered rare sleet. Snowfall in Amarillo, Tex., reached seven inches, topping the totals in downtown Chicago, though the Windy City's northwestern suburbs registered more than a foot of snow.

Traffic was snarled, and public officials urged people to stay off the roads. Flights were canceled by the hundreds in Dallas and Chicago and at countless points in between. A FedEx cargo plane skidded into the mud at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and had to be towed to solid ground.

The freezing tempest, which began late Thursday and brought thunder and high winds, was all the more startling in the upper Midwest because the previous 10 days proved unseasonably warm. Temperatures reached into the 60s on Thanksgiving in many parts of the region.

"It's the shockeroo of being so warm for so long and then getting a cold snap with wintry precipitation," said Victor Murphy, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth.

Some of the heaviest snow and gloomiest conditions struck Missouri, where a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 70 was closed to traffic for several hours early Friday. Sedalia, in western Missouri, registered 16 inches of snow before the storm churned away.

In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) declared a disaster emergency in 27 counties. In Johnson County, the state's most populous, 400 residents lost power after a snowplow slammed into a power pole.

Things were anything but normal in Normal, Ill., where Illinois State University closed for the day, a rarity. Chicago public schools, which make up one of the nation's largest school districts, remained open despite snowfall that topped six inches at O'Hare and three inches at Midway International Airport.

As drivers on the interstates inched along, lest they turn their commutes into bumper car rides, Manitowoc, Wis., Mayor Kevin Crawford decided retreat was the better part of valor soon after embarking on a planned work trip.

"I tried to head up to Green Bay, but there were too many vehicles in the ditch to continue my journey," Crawford said. "There are too many horror stories on I-43, and I didn't want to be one of them."

Ice proved particularly perilous as slick sheets covered the roads, only to be hidden by fallen snow. Vehicles veered into one another and nearby gullies and outcroppings.

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