Midwest braces for deadly winter storm

6:27 AM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
Kevin Quick plows snow in front of M&T Bank during a winter storm in Buffalo. David Duprey AP
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ST. LOUIS (CBSNews.com) - An armada of snow plows and salt spreaders deployed Wednesday on highways across the nation's heartland as a winter storm that's already blamed for one death promised to dump up to a foot of snow in some areas and bring freezing rain and sleet to others.

Winter storm warnings were issued from Colorado through Illinois. By midday Wednesday, heavy snow was already falling in Colorado and western Kansas. In Oklahoma, roads were covered with a slushy mix of snow and ice that officials said caused a crash that killed an 18-year-old man.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said parts of Colorado, Kansas and northern Missouri could get 10 to 12 inches of snow. Dodge City, Kan., was bracing for up to 16 inches of snow. Farther south, freezing rain and sleet already were making driving treacherous.

Cody Alexander, 18, of Alex, Okla., died when the pickup truck he was driving skidded out of control in slush on State Highway 19, crossed into oncoming traffic and was hit by a truck, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said. The other driver was not seriously injured.

In northern Arkansas a school bus crashed Wednesday afternoon on a steep, snowy country road, leaving three students and the driver with minor injuries. Pope County Sheriff Aaron Duval said the bus slid off a road on Crow Mountain, nearly flipping before it was stopped by trees at the roadside.

Officials feared the winter storm would be the worst in the Midwest since the Groundhog Day blizzard in 2011. A two-day storm that began Feb. 1, 2011, was blamed in about two dozen deaths and left hundreds of thousands without power, some for several days. At its peak, the storm created white-out conditions so intense that Interstate 70 was shut down across the entire state of Missouri.

"We're not going to see that type of storm, but it's certainly the most impactful in the last two winters," said Gosselin, who works in suburban St. Louis.

Tim Chojnacki, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said it planned to have salt trucks on the roads before the storm arrived in the Show-Me State in hopes that the precipitation would largely melt upon impact.

Much of Kansas was expected to get up to a foot of snow, which many rural residents welcomed after nearly a year of drought.

Kansans are stocking up on supplies in anticipation of the winter storm, CBS affiliate WIBW Topeka reported. A Home Depot there ran out of generators, and such things shovels and snow blowers were popular items. "We would hope they come in before," Home Depot employee J.R. Reynolds said of the customers. "But usually, yea you got that rush of people that get out late and are like 'oh my goodness we have to get some weight in the vehicle or get some shovels to get rid of the snow.'"

Jerry and Diane McReynolds spent part of Wednesday putting out more hay and straw for newborn calves at their farm near Woodston in north central Kansas. The storm made extra work, but Diane McReynolds said it would help their winter wheat, pastures and dried-up ponds.

"In the city you hear they don't want the snow and that sort of thing, and I am thinking, `Yes, we do,' and they don't realize that we need it," she said. "We have to have it or their food cost in the grocery store is going to go very high. We have to have this. We pray a lot for it."

Meanwhile, a separate snow storm caught many drivers by surprise in California, leaving hundreds stranded on mountain highways. A 35-mile stretch of Highway 58 between Mojave and Bakersfield was closed Wednesday, and several school districts closed. No injuries were reported.

Schools also were closed in northern Arizona and Colorado with snow there. Mindy Crane, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said hundreds of plows had been deployed for what was expected to be one of the most significant snow storms of the season.

Just the threat of snow led to a series of shutdowns in the middle of the country. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback closed state government from Thursday morning through Friday morning and urged residents to stay off the roads.

Lawmakers in Nebraska and Iowa cancelled committee meetings and hearings, and the Arkansas Senate voted to recess until Monday so lawmakers could make it home before the worst of the storm hit. University of Nebraska officials moved a Big 10 men's basketball game against Iowa from Thursday to Saturday.

Gosselin said precipitation is generally expected to drop off as the storm makes its way east. Chicago and parts of Indiana, he said, could get about 2 inches of snow and some sleet.

Meanwhile, nine flights headed to Tucson were diverted to Phoenix or other airports because of the storm that brought snow to southern Arizona.

Officials at Tucson International Airport said planes were being allowed to take off and other flights were cleared to land by early afternoon Wednesday.

Snowfall postponed first-round play Wednesday at southern Arizona's premier golf event in Marana, while winter weather canceled classes in Flagstaff, Bisbee and Show Low and battered other parts of the state.

Hail fell on parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area, making a slushy mess for many freeways during afternoon rush hour.

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