Paralyzing winter storm pounds heartland, heads Northeast
A ferocious winter storm pounded the nation's heartland with howling winds and up to 2 feet of snow Tuesday, disrupting life in ice-glazed...
NotablesSnow: More than 2 feet in some areas; Chicago expected to flirt with record 23-inch snowfall in blizzard of 1967; snowdrifts up to 6 feet high reported in Oklahoma
Wind: 60 mph-plus in Texas; approaching 60 mph in Chicago area
Flight cancellations: 9,000, including some at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (to check the status of Sea-Tac flights, see http://hosting.portseattle.org/fids/flightinfo.aspx
Other fallout: The Tulsa World, a newspaper founded in 1905, canceled its print edition for the first time; Chicago public schools called a snow day for the first time in 12 years; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was closed temporarily by snow for the first time.
Seattle Times news services and staff
A ferocious winter storm pounded the nation's heartland with howling winds and up to 2 feet of snow Tuesday, disrupting life in ice-glazed areas from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and from Colorado to Maine.
Airlines canceled thousands of flights. Governors called out the National Guard. Schools closed early, if they opened at all. Interstate highways became treacherous ribbons of black ice. Top officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) apprised President Obama of their battle plans for foul weather threatening more than 30 states and 100 million people.
Jack Damrill, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, called the storm a "once in a lifetime" event. Snowdrifts up to 6 feet high blocked some roads, he said, stranding so many motorists and state patrol officers that snowplows couldn't get through.
By Tuesday evening, the storm had brought Tulsa to a virtual halt with more than a foot of snow; layered the roadways of St. Louis with an icy sheen; and draped Chicago with a swirling snowfall so thick that the white-gray sky and the gray-white ground blurred into one enveloping test pattern. All the while, the storm was moving inexorably to the Northeast, where many people watched televised weather reports — of blinding snow and stranded cars — and imagined what Wednesday would bring.
More than one-third of the nation, stretching more than 2,000 miles, shivered. Some states were lashed by freezing rain rather than snow.
"It's having a gigantic geographical impact," said Bob Oravec, a National Weather Service meteorologist who tracked the storm from the safety of his office in relatively unscathed Camp Springs, Md.
Oravec offered a basic lesson in meteorology to explain weather that transcends the word "inclement." A cold air mass from Canada has become entrenched across the north-central part of the United States, while storms in the Mississippi Valley to the south have been drawing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Cold air plus moisture equals snow — and ice.
Gale-force winds created blinding whiteouts in parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio and elsewhere. Cars and trucks were abandoned in towering snowdrifts, and thick ice brought down trees and power lines in scores of communities.
Major outages were reported in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere.
Nearly 9,000 flights were canceled, causing delays and disruptions in air service across the United States. Several thousand more cancellations were expected nationwide Wednesday.
Among airports forced to close temporarily was Dallas-Fort Worth, the destination for football fans hoping to attend Sunday's Super Bowl in nearby Arlington. Officials said it was the airport's first snow-caused closure in history. With ice coating its streets, Dallas looked poised to host an ice bowl.
In Chicago, the National Weather Service warned that high winds could churn waves up to 25 feet high on Lake Michigan, leading to coastal flooding and freezing spray, particularly along busy Lake Shore Drive. With up to 20 inches of snow forecast, the city's emergency-management workers braced for a storm that might rival the blizzard of 1967, when 23 inches of snow paralyzed the city for days.
By Tuesday evening, Lake Shore Drive — a busy road that runs along Lake Michigan from the north end of Chicago to the south side — had been closed, after at least one city bus skidded and blocked most lanes of traffic for hours.
Farther west, the Iowa Department of Transportation said most roadways were partially or completely covered with a combination of ice and snow. Parts of Interstate 80 were closed.
Deadly wrecks were reported in Minnesota and Kansas, according to The Associated Press.
"If you don't have to travel, don't do it. If you can stay home, do it," Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said before heading to the state's emergency operations center. "You might get in. You won't get back."
Missouri transportation officials closed I-70 along its entire length from Kansas City to St. Louis amid heavy snow and whiteout conditions.
New York City posted a winter-storm warning, with forecasters predicting a mix of snow, sleet and ice. In Washington, D.C., nonemergency federal employees were allowed to work from home or take unscheduled leave because roads were icy from freezing rain.
Blizzard warnings were issued in seven states, and storm alerts or freezing-rain advisories were posted in a dozen more. Governors in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois declared states of emergency.
The weather was miserable even in some areas where it didn't snow. Denver was bathed in brilliant sunshine, but with highs hovering around zero, most public schools were closed and authorities advised people to stay off the streets to avoid the potentially lethal cold.
The storm slammed first into Texas and Oklahoma after emerging from the Rockies. Whiteouts paralyzed Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where a roof partially collapsed at the Hard Rock Casino but caused no injuries.
The daily newspaper Tulsa World announced it would not publish a print edition Wednesday for the first time since its founding in 1905. Snow-clogged roads meant delivery trucks could not reach customers.
"The biggest reason we're not printing, frankly, is we couldn't get it to our customers," said Joe Worley, the executive editor. The paper planned to post a 12-page e-edition and updates on its website, he said.
Major swaths of the state's road and turnpike system were closed, and the Oklahoma National Guard was mobilized to help motorists stranded on the Will Rogers Turnpike.
The storm was roaring toward the Northeast, where heavy snow this year already has shattered records.
A barrage of blizzards already has battered much of the region this season, with weeks of winter ahead. Tuesday's megastorm will add vast new cleanup costs, overtime, missed work and other expenses to already stressed local and state budgets.
FEMA sent teams into Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to assist with storm response efforts. The agency also sent water, meals, blankets, cots and generators to the states, FEMA said Tuesday.
Sending personnel and supplies into the field before a storm strikes is one of the major operational changes made by FEMA after its botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
Such deployments are made without formal disaster requests by governors, but state officials must agree to allow federal personnel to join them at state emergency operation centers, the agency said.
Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Associated Press and The Washington Post
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