Christmas Eve storm in central states creates travel misery

By Associated Press
Friday, December 25, 2009

A slow-moving storm spread snow, sleet and rain across the nation's midsection Thursday, making last-minute holiday travel treacherous but promising a white Christmas for some.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for parts of Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Texas. It cautioned that travel would be extremely dangerous in those areas through the weekend and that drivers should pack a winter survival kit.

Slippery roads were blamed for at least 12 deaths since Tuesday, including accidents that killed six people in Nebraska, four in Kansas, one in Minnesota and one near Albuquerque. Winter storm warnings were in effect across the Plains and the Midwest, with a foot or two of snow possible in some areas by Christmas day. By Thursday afternoon, parts of southeastern Minnesota had gotten eight inches.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed eastbound Interstate 40 in El Reno because of numerous accidents, but crews were working 12-hour shifts to keep other major highways cleared. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) activated military personnel and emergency vehicles to assist motorists. And in North Dakota, Gov. John Hoeven (R) placed additional state troopers and the National Guard on standby.

Scott Blair, a weather service meteorologist in Topeka, Kan., said the wind was affecting travel, with speeds of up to 25 mph and gusts reaching 40 mph.

"The wind is killer, especially when you're empty," trucker Jim Reed said during a stop in Omaha. "Anything that's boxed, like a refrigerator trailer like I have . . . becomes like a giant sail in the wind."

Nearly 100 scheduled flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were canceled Thursday, and dozens more were delayed. Delays topping two hours were reported at Houston's Hobby Airport.

Washington area airports reported only minor disruptions.

The storm began in the Southwest and spread east and north, causing weather advisories from the Rockies to Lake Michigan.

Washington Post staff writer Lisa Rein contributed to this report.

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