A weather system expected to produce flurries stunned the western Plains with more than a foot of snow and blizzard conditions yesterday, shutting down Denver's airport, closing interstate highways and stranding thousands of travelers.
Elsewhere on the Plains, crews worked to restore power to thousands blacked out by ice storms.
Meanwhile, flooding eased in a city in western Tennessee and people were able to begin cleaning up, although most homes still weren't habitable. A nearby Arkansas city remained partially under water.
At least five traffic deaths were blamed on ice-covered highways in Kansas and Oklahoma, and some churches canceled Sunday services because of road conditions.
The snow was produced by a storm that moved farther north than expected, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Weiland in Wyoming.
"We didn't quite expect it to be quite this bad," he said.
Snow blown by wind gusting as high as 50 mph reduced visibility to less than a quarter-mile in some areas.
Wyoming police closed Interstate 80 from Cheyenne to the Nebraska line. Earlier, Nebraska police closed I-80 from the Wyoming line to Sydney for several hours. Interstate 25 was shut down from Cheyenne south to the Colorado border. In Colorado, I-70 was closed from Denver to the Kansas state line and I-25 was shut down between Denver and Colorado Springs.
Ahead of the storm, freezing rain spread a layer of ice over western Iowa and officials said westbound I-80 was closed west of Des Moines.
Snow accumulations were 21 inches at Valentine, Neb.; 20 inches at Pine Bluffs, Wyo.; 16 at Ainsworth, Neb.; 14 at Denver's Stapleton International Airport; 12 at Loveland, Colo.; and 11 at Wheatland, Wyo. Kimball, Neb., received 4 1/2 inches in a 90-minute period.
Stapleton was forced to close completely about midday, leaving thousands of travelers stranded, said Richard Boulware, deputy director of aviation.
In western Nebraska, hotels in Big Springs, Sidney and Ogallala were filled with stranded travelers and about 30 people spent the night at the Faith Church in Ogallala, said Keith County Civil Defense Director Harold Peterson.
Behind the storm, freezing temperatures threatened southern California's multimillion-dollar citrus industry. "This is the coldest I've seen it in 25 years," said grower Bill Hutchings in northern San Diego.
The cold also damaged flowers destined for floats in the New Year's Day Tournament of Roses Parade.
In the wake of a storm that piled up ice and snow Saturday in Kansas, police said roads across the state were slippery. One traffic fatality was reported.
Thousands of Oklahomans spent a second day without power yesterday because of an ice storm blamed for at least four traffic deaths there.
"We still have about 15,000 customers without power," Nancy Harlow of Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said yesterday. "We had a high of about 25,000 without power late Saturday afternoon. They have restored power to 10,000 customers and have been working around the clock."
Other utilities also reported outages across the state. The weight of several inches of ice collapsed the 1,909-foot broadcasting tower of KTUL-TV in Tulsa.
In southwestern Missouri, more than 30,000 customers in the Springfield area lost power Friday and Saturday. Ernest Decamp of City Utilities of Springfield said it could be several days before service was back to normal.
Residents of Millington, Tenn., just north of Memphis, worked yesterday to clean up flood damage, although few of the 3,200 evacuees were able to return home. The weather service said more than 13 inches of rain had fallen there since Dec. 23.
"It's still raining, but I have checked the ditches and streams in this area and they are down," Millington Police Chief Tony Dingam said.
But across the Mississippi River at West Memphis, Ark., evacuees hoping the water would continue to recede were back to square one yesterday when rain continued to fall.
Meanwhile, it appeared that there would be far fewer traffic deaths than the National Safety Council had predicted for the four-day Christmas holiday. By 11 p.m. yesterday, 301 persons had died on the nation's roads. The safety council had estimated that between 450 and 550 fatalities would occur over the long holiday weekend.