Snow in Midwest leads to fatal 25-vehicle pileup

Woman in Utah a storm fatality after trying to walk from stuck car

By Margery Beck

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 3:42 p.m. MST

Snow clearing crews in Pine Island, Minn were out early trying to clear roads before morning commuters headed to work on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The first major snowstorm of the season began its slow eastward march across the Midwest early Thursday, creating treacherous driving conditions and threatening to disrupt some of the nation's busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend.

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with whiteout conditions stranding holiday travelers and sending drivers sliding over slick roads — including into a fatal 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa.

The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.

The storm led airlines to cancel or delay about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday — relatively few compared to past big storms.

On the southern edge of the system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs Alabama.

In Iowa, drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn't see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway. At least one person was killed.

"It's time to listen to warnings and get off the road," said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.

Thomas Shubert, a clerk at a store in Gretna near Omaha, Neb., said his brother drove him to work in his truck, but some of his neighbors weren't so fortunate.

"I saw some people in my neighborhood trying to get out. They made it a few feet, and that was about it," Shubert said.

Along with Thursday's fatal accident in Iowa, the storm was blamed for road deaths in Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin. In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night.

The heavy, wet snow made some unplowed streets in Des Moines nearly impossible to navigate in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even streets that had been plowed were snow-packed and slippery. Eight jackknifed semitrailers were reported on a section of Interstate 80 east of the city.

The storm made travel difficult from Kansas to Wisconsin, forcing road closures, including part of Interstate 29 in northern Missouri and a 120-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames, Iowa through Albert Lea, Minn. A section of Interstate 80 in Nebraska that was closed from Wednesday evening to Thursday afternoon. Iowa and Wisconsin activated National Guard troops to help rescue stranded drivers.

Those who planned to fly before the Christmas holiday didn't fare much better.

Shanna Tinsley, 17, and Nicole Latimer, 20, were both headed to the Kansas City area to see their families for the holiday when their flight Thursday morning out of Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport was canceled. Neither cared about a white Christmas, and were hoping to get on another flight later in the day.

"It would be cool I guess, but I'd rather be there than stuck without family with a white Christmas," Latimer said.

Added Tinsley, "Wisconsin is full of snow, you see it all the time."

In Chicago, commuters began Thursday with heavy fog and cold, driving rain, and forecasters said snow would hit by mid-afternoon.

Airlines delayed and canceled hundreds of flights out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway international airports. Southwest Airlines canceled all of its flights at its Midway hub that were scheduled for after 4:30 p.m. Airlines were waiving fees for customers impacted by the storm who wanted to change their flights.

The cancellations were getting a lot of attention because the storm came just a few days before Christmas. But Daniel Baker, CEO of flight tracking service FlightAware.com called it "a relatively minor event in the overall scheme of things."

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