Snowstorm slams road, air travel in U.S. Midwest

CHICAGO Tue Mar 5, 2013 7:07pm GMT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A deadly late winter storm dumped heavy snow on the Midwestern United States on Tuesday, contributing to numerous highway crashes and flight cancellations as it moved east toward the Ohio Valley and the mid-Atlantic states.

More than 1,000 flights were cut in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports and 107 more were canceled in and out of Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport, according to the FlightAware.com flight tracking service.

In Chicago, where the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning through midnight, residents were girding for between 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 cm) of snow, much of it expected to fall around the evening rush hour.

At a late morning press conference hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city's Office of Emergency Management & Communications said nearly 300 snow plows were working to keep roads clear in the city.

Temperatures above freezing in many parts of the city were helping those efforts, OEMC said, turning much of the fallen snow into water.

"Obviously as the evening comes and temperatures drop, this will start to accumulate," Emanuel said.

All flights in and out of Chicago's Midway Airport were canceled through 5 pm as a precaution, the Chicago Department of Aviation said.

Roads in northwest Illinois had patches of ice and snow on Tuesday and road crews were bracing in northeast Illinois for the storm, which began dropping snow on Chicago near the middle of the morning rush hour.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said that as of noon Central time, there were no serious crashes anywhere in the state and no traffic accident fatalities blamed on the storm.

In western Wisconsin, a semi-tractor flipped off an Interstate 94 bridge and fully submerged in the Red Cedar River in Menomonie early Tuesday, said Christine Ouellete, a Wisconsin Transportation Department spokeswoman.

Wisconsin rescue crews recovered the body of a man thought to be the driver of the truck and were searching for the body of his co-driver, who was presumed dead, State Patrol Lieutenant Jeff Lorentz said.

Wisconsin's transportation department listed numerous roads as snow-covered or slippery from the storm across southwestern Wisconsin, but no road closings.

Slick roads contributed to numerous crashes and a slow commute across the border in Minnesota. Driving conditions remained difficult along highways in parts of North Dakota.

Minnesota's public safety department reported 122 crashes, but no fatalities from the storm so far.

Around the Minneapolis and St. Paul area there were reports of up to 9 inches of snow earlier on Tuesday morning and forecasters expected totals of up to 10 to 12 inches by the time the storm ends in the area.

The storm was expected to move eastward over the Ohio Valley and then the central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic states on Wednesday, hitting Washington with its biggest snowfall in possibly two years, the National Weather Service said.

Winter storm warnings were in effect for all or parts of 16 states from the Upper Midwest to the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said.

The storm was forecast to move across Ohio and the Tennessee Valley and merge with a developing storm off the mid-Atlantic states that could produce heavy, wet snow overnight and through Wednesday into the mid-Atlantic states that could bring down trees and power lines, Vaccaro said.

"It will be a wet, heavy, gloppy snow consistent with wallpaper paste," he said.

Vaccaro said upwards of 10 to 12 inches of snow was possible, and locally higher amounts in the Appalachians, West Virginia and eastern Maryland.

"We're expecting a sizeable accumulation for Washington DC, where there has not been a storm to produce more than 2 inches of snow since January 2011," Vaccaro said.

North Dakota on Tuesday was digging out from the storm, which caused blowing snow and drifts up to 3 feet (0.9 meter) high in blizzard conditions in the northwest oil region, a foot of snow near Minot and 15 inches near Grand Forks on Monday.

In a separate storm, heavy snow and high winds were blamed for two major traffic accidents in the Colorado mountains, near the ski resort of Vail, involving more than 50 vehicles.

Three people were hospitalized from a 25-vehicle chain- reaction crash that closed a stretch of Interstate 70, the Summit County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. "None of the injuries were reported to be serious," the statement said.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher in Chicago, David Bailey in Minneapolis, Jane Sutton in Miami, Ian Simpson in Washington, Keith Coffman in Denver and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Andrew Hay and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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