Don Hunter shovels outside of Gerda's German Restaurant and Bakery in Omaha on Wednesday.
(USA TODAY) -- A killer snowstorm was sweeping across the Midwest and beyond on
Thursday, shuttering schools, clogging highways and bottling up airports
for the holiday rush.
Three deaths were reported, including a
woman in Utah who died after trying to walk for help when her car became
stuck in the blizzard.
Blizzard warnings were in effect from
Missouri to Wisconsin, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Mike
Smith. The Weather Channel reported that parts of 20 of the lower 48
states are under winter weather advisories -- as far west as Washington
state and as far east as New York state.
The southern edge of the
storm system brought winds and damaged homes in Arkansas, the National
Weather Service said. Tornado warnings remained in effect in
Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
The snowstorm was walloping Iowa, and about a foot of snow had
already fallen in Des Moines. Across Iowa, 30,900 customers were without
power Thursday morning, including more than 25,000 in the Des Moines
Nebraska's largest school district canceled classes because
of heavy overnight snow, as did many districts across the region. In
many areas drivers were being told to stay off the roads starting
Wednesday evening because of whiteout conditions.
Some spots in
Iowa and Wisconsin could see a foot and a half of snow by the time the
storm winds down Thursday night, according to the National Weather
In southeastern Wisconsin, where a blizzard warning was in effect and
winds of up to 45 mph were expected to create whiteout conditions,
sheriff's officials said slick conditions led to at least two fatalities
late Wednesday when a driver lost control of his car in Rock County,
about 90 miles northwest of Chicago.
The weather service was
forecasting "thundersnow" in Milwaukee and the surrounding areas, where
snow could fall at the rate of 2-3 inches an hour.
Scott Walker on Wednesday issued an executive order declaring a state of
emergency, which put the state Emergency Government, National Guard,
State Patrol and other agencies at high alert.
The storm forecast promises much-needed precipitation for the drought-plagued regions, but was bad news for holiday travelers.
delays at airports in the path of the storm and ripple-effect delays in
other parts of the nation, AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski
said. The storm will have a direct impact on Chicago, Detroit and
Minneapolis, he said.
TRAVEL TROUBLE: New winter storm could snarl Christmas flights
of the nation's big airlines responded to the storm's threat by
enacting flexible rebooking policies for fliers scheduled to fly into
the storm's path.
Chicago's O'Hare is a major hub for both
American and United, while Midway is one of the top bases for Southwest.
Flights at O'Hare - the USA's second-busiest airport - were being
delayed by an average of nearly two hours because of strong winds ahead
of the storm, the FAA said. Scores of flights were canceled.
The Des Moines airport's online flight information page shows that
all but two of this morning's departures were canceled. In Omaha, more
than a dozen of the airport's morning departures were canceled.
If forecasts hold, the region's airports are at risk of significant delays into Friday.
snow and whiteout conditions also closed interstates and caused driving
problems in Utah, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas on Wednesday. On
Thursday, several states were reporting numerous traffic accidents,
including one fatality in Nebraska.
In Utah, Washington County
Sheriff's detective Nate Abbott says the woman and a man were driving
when their car got stuck in rural Washington County Tuesday night during
the storm that hit the Rocky Mountain region.
He says the pair
started walking for help, but the woman couldn't go any further and
sought shelter while the man continued on. Search and rescue teams later
found her body.
South of the snowstorm, blowing dust led to
near-zero visibilities in West Texas, which caused a major car wreck
that killed one person.
In the South, AccuWeather was forecasting
severe weather. States where the threat is the highest include Arkansas,
Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the Storm Prediction
"The greatest risk from the storms appears to be
damaging wind gusts and flash and urban flooding," AccuWeather
meteorologist Eddie Walker said. "However, there is a slight possibility
that a few storms can be intense enough to produce a tornado."
Although the Plains and Midwest could do without the travel headaches, precipitation should be welcome.
than 93% of the high Plains region and 54% of the Midwest are enduring
drought conditions, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, a
federal website that tracks drought.