Major winter storm taking aim at West, Midwest |

Major winter storm taking aim at West, Midwest

Kristen Wyatt
Associated Press
Denver, CO Colorado
Longmont Fire Department engineer Troy Reed, left, and firefighter Len Mitchler lift a ladder after using it to access a pickup truck in a ditch following a single-vehicle accident in Longmont, Colo., Wednesday morning, Dec. 23, 2009. Police said the driver of the truck, a 58-year-old woman from Louisville, Colo., who was not seriously injured, was cited for careless driving. (AP Photo/Longmont Times-Call, Richard M. Hackett)

DENVER, Colorado – A major winter storm is promising to bring a white Christmas to parts of the West and Midwest, though countless holiday travelers faced tough driving conditions and scattered flight delays Wednesday that only looked to get worse.

The storm was expected to dump more than a foot of snow on parts of Colorado and southern Utah by midday, and blow east into the Plains states through Christmas Day. Blizzard warnings were likely on Christmas Eve in Kansas.

“Pretty much the entire central and southern Rockies are going to get snow, and then it’s going east and will drop more snow,” said Stan Rose, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pueblo, Colo.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds declared a state of emergency Tuesday. The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls warned of treacherous travel conditions from Wednesday through Friday night, calling the storm “life threatening.”

The Nebraska State Patrol urged drivers to use extreme caution Wednesday morning when venturing out on the roads across the central third of the state because the roads are slick as freezing rain and snow had started to fall.

The Kansas Highway Patrol reported numerous crashes in the western part of the state, including a double fatality collision in Thomas County near Colby. The patrol said an eastbound car on icy Interstate 70 spun out of control Tuesday night, crossed the median and was struck by a westbound tractor-trailer, killing both people in the car.

A Colorado woman was killed Tuesday when her SUV apparently hit black ice and slid across a median in western Nebraska.

In Nevada, multiple wrecks were reported in and around Reno as snow blanketed the area Tuesday evening. No serious injuries were reported, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Blustery weather already had snarled traffic in Arizona, with blizzard-like conditions shutting down roads and causing a pileup involving 20 vehicles Tuesday. South of Phoenix, a dust storm set off a series of collisions that killed at least three people.

A tropical jet stream pumping in moisture from the storm’s south was likely to cause plenty of snow as the storm headed into the Plains and upper Midwest.

“This is a huge system,” said Rick Hiltbrand, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn. “It’s just going to kind of sit there through the weekend.”

Winter storm warnings stretched from Colorado through the Dakotas and into Minnesota. They also were issued for parts of the Four Corners region. By Wednesday morning, snow was falling along Colorado’s Front Range. The heaviest accumulations were around Greeley and Fort Collins, where up to 5 inches had fallen.

No major airport delays were reported in Denver, where about an inch had fallen, but travelers across the region were warned to check with their airlines before arriving for flights.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport were delayed an average of 2 1/2 hours Wednesday morning. The city’s Department of Aviation, which operates O’Hare and Midway International Airport, would not confirm that. The FAA also reported minor delays elsewhere.

Travelers scrambled to adjust their plans on Tuesday before the snowstorm hit.

Sarah McAnarney and her husband, Jeff, planned to leave Denver on Wednesday to visit family in Ozark, Mo., with their springer spaniel, Olive. But the forecast caused them to skip a day of skiing in the Rockies and start driving a day early.

McAnarney said she was caught in a blizzard two weeks ago in the Rockies and needed four hours to drive 100 miles from Vail to Denver. She said she didn’t want to repeat the experience.

“I was driving through a whiteout,” she said Tuesday at a truck stop east of Topeka, Kan. “You couldn’t see over your headlights.”

Craig Rueschhoff, 35, and his girlfriend, Brenna Larson, in Des Moines, Iowa said they had planned to drive 210-miles to Columbus, Neb., to visit his parents, then on to visit Larson’s family in western Iowa, but were thinking of canceling the annual trip.

“We’ve had both my mom and her mom encourage us not to come if the weather is too bad,” he said. “They wouldn’t feel bad if we didn’t come. We’ve gotten their blessing.”

The winter blast follow a weekend storm that dropped record snowfall and interrupted holiday shopping and travel on the East Coast. Delays from that storm sparked an unruly crowd that included passengers still on standby Tuesday at the Delta Air Lines terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Police were called to help with crowd control.

Rose said holiday revelers in the West and Midwest should worry about the cold as well as the snow. Temperatures across Colorado on Christmas were not expected to get out of the 20s, with single-digits expected in the mountains.

“It’s going to be cold to begin with, and then it’s going to get even colder,” Rose said.

Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., Josh Funk and Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis, Mark Carlson in Phoenix and Elizabeth White in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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