Nati Harnik  /  AP
A car gets a human assist in Omaha, Neb., on Thursday. Heavy snow and gusty winds were expected to continue into Friday across much of the Midwest, dumping up to 16 inches of snow in some parts of Iowa before heading into Wisconsin.
updated 3/1/2007 6:56:46 PM ET 2007-03-01T23:56:46

Heavy, wet snow and blizzard conditions hit the Plains and Midwest on Thursday, shutting down hundreds of miles of interstate highways.

Schools closed in several states, and hundreds of flights were canceled. Two people were killed when their car overturned on a slick road in North Dakota, and snowplows were pulled off the roads in the western Minnesota because of strong wind and heavy snow.

The storm moved into Iowa with rain and sleet but changed to snow around dawn.

The western part of the state was hit with a blizzard that dropped visibility to a quarter-mile or less for at least three hours. By midday, as much as a foot of snow covered the town of Atlantic.

A blizzard also hit eastern Nebraska, with a foot of snow in the Omaha area and up to 15 inches of snow expected in some areas before it dies off Friday.

Interstate 80 was closed for nearly 200 miles from York, Neb., to Des Moines; I-35 was shut down for 115 miles from Ames to Albert Lea, Minn.; and I-90 was closed from Albert Lea to the South Dakota line, about 150 miles to the west.

Pat Sinnott, who owns the Pump ’N Munch Too convenience store in Council Bluffs near the Nebraska line, said motorists had been pulling off I-80 and using her phone to call their bosses and say they wouldn’t be coming in.

Iowa disaster declaration planned
With up to 18 inches of snow expected in parts of Iowa, Gov. Chet Culver prepared to issue a disaster declaration, clearing the way for state aid, and authorities warned people to stay off the roads.

“There’s a real chance for people to get themselves stranded in some real treacherous conditions,” said Jim Saunders, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

In North Dakota, a vehicle went out of control on the slick roads Wednesday, hit a ditch and rolled over, killing a couple on their way home from Texas.

The storm was expected to track northeast to La Crosse, Wis., later Thursday, with heaviest snowfall expected along a line north and west of the storm, forecasters said.

In suburban Milwaukee, part of a supermarket roof collapsed after a morning snowfall. Joe Foltz, who works at the Pick n’ Save supermarket, said he heard a crackling shortly before the collapse.

“We thought maybe milk crates crashed on the floor,” Foltz said. “About 10 minutes later, it started going down. ... So I rushed everybody out of the emergency exit door and, thank God, we got everybody out.”

‘Snowing and blowing’ in Wis.
In Superior, Wis., Angela Jones decided to stay home with her two children after their day care center closed and a blizzard warning was posted.

“It is snowing and blowing. The wind is blowing really hard,” said Jones, 31. “The flag out there is whipping around. I am glad I didn’t have to go out in this.”

As much as 20 inches of snow could fall in her area of northwestern Wisconsin through Friday morning, while closer to 8 inches of snow mixed with sleet was expected across the east-central part of the state, the National Weather Service said.

The storm was part of a larger line of thunderstorms and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to Louisiana. Tornadoes swept through Alabama, Kansas and Missouri on Thursday morning, killing two people including a 7-year-old girl, authorities said.

Minnesota expects to get 'pummeled'
More than 140 school districts canceled classes Thursday in Minnesota even before the heavy snow arrived.

By Friday, snowfall totals were expected to be a foot or more in southern and central Minnesota. In northeastern Minnesota, the totals could hit two feet. The weather service warned of blowing snow and possible blizzard conditions in the countryside.

“We’re going to get pummeled,” National Weather Service meteorologist Byron Paulson said.

Flights were canceled around the region. At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, airport officials were preparing for serious disruptions after airlines nixed about 400 flights, a number that was expected to grow.

“Certainly there is a likelihood that there will be people who will spend the night in the terminal,” said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan.

The snowfall follows a storm last weekend that dropped up to 2 feet of snow across Minnesota, leaving plow crews wondering where to put the new snow.

Snowstorms in Midwest
Elsewhere, snow brought parts of the nation to a standstill.

The bulk of the snowstorms Thursday morning were near the Iowa-Missouri border, moving slowly across Iowa. Blizzard conditions — heavy snow and wind gusts above 35 mph — were reported in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.

In Colorado and Washington state, heavy snow made for huge highway pile-ups and dangerous driving conditions.

Iowa and neighboring states saw a second snowstorm in less than a week, while heavy rain, hail and strong winds were forecast in parts of the Southeast — including the Atlanta area as well as parts of Mississippi and Alabama.

The storm system was expected to intensify as it moved through the Plains toward the Great Lakes, and winter storm warnings were in effect for much of the Upper Midwest, the National Weather Service said.

Parts of Wisconsin had seen 18 inches of snow by Thursday morning. Up to two feet of snow was possible in parts of the Upper Midwest.

Areas of freezing rain and ice were also expected from the Upper Mississippi through Wisconsin and Michigan.

Pile-ups in Colo., Wash.
In Colorado, a storm dumped six inches of new snow on some areas. Dozens of vehicles crashed, forcing the shutdown for several hours of a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 25 north of Colorado Springs. Eighteen people were taken to hospitals, four with serious injuries.

State Trooper Ron Watkins said authorities had to send a school bus to collect stranded motorists and take them to a hotel. Watkins’ advice to other drivers: “Stay away from the area.”

The National Weather Service had predicted less than 3 inches of snow for Denver, but at least 7 inches of snow fell in the suburbs west of Denver, and 10 inches fell in the foothills.

In Washington state, 60 vehicles were involved in a pile-up on Interstate 90 near the summit of a mountain pass, closing the highway for six hours and seriously injuring at least four people.

That accident triggered dozens of other accidents during the Wednesday evening commute. The area saw nearly a foot of snow overnight.

18-mile backup
The I-90 backup stretched 18 miles at one point. "We've got semis that are sideways and trailers that were hauling boats, and trailers that are destroyed, and trucks and cars. It's a mess," State Patrol Trooper Jeff Merrill said Wednesday night, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.

Even low-elevation areas across western Washington state saw several inches of snow, and dozens of accidents.

A recent spate of good weather lulled drivers into thinking the worst was over, said Jeff Adamson, a state Transportation Department spokesman.

"We've had such good weather for the past few weeks and then this blasted weather comes," he said. "A lot of people took off their studded tires and are getting ready for spring. They forget that it's still winter."

50,000 still without power in Iowa
Iowa was also in the storm's path, and 50,000 customers were still without power after the last storm a week ago.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning through Friday for 38 counties in central and north-central Iowa. Winds are expected to reach above 50 mph, with drifting snow producing whiteout conditions.

"Customers have to prepare themselves that, yes, our system is vulnerable right now," said Ryan Stensland, an Alliant Energy spokesman. "There could be additional shortages if severe weather hits."

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