Image: Shoveling out in Colorado
Nathan Bilow  /  AP
A Golden retriever named Ava watches owner Kass Jones of Crested Butte, Colo., as he shovels snow Wednesday. A fierce storm left a substantial amount of snow in the southern portions of the state.
updated 11/24/2010 9:36:10 PM ET 2010-11-25T02:36:10

A powerful storm that pummeled much of the West is promising to bring its chaotic mix of snow, sleet and ice to much of the Dakotas on Thanksgiving Day.

The system closed roads and delayed flights from Anchorage to Salt Lake City on some of the busiest travel days of the year.

Meteorologists warned residents in the Dakotas to expect a range of messy wintry weather, from freezing drizzle in the eastern two-thirds of South Dakota to a possible blizzard in eastern North Dakota.

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"Like the Boy Scouts, you've got to be prepared for a North Dakota winter or you're asking for your own problems," said Gerald Miller, 52, who plowed roads on his farm just east of Bismarck on Wednesday.

Miller has spent every winter of his life in North Dakota except for one in 2003 when he served in Iraq with the National Guard. "After Iraq, I promised I'd never complain about the weather in North Dakota again," he said.

Blowing snow was likely to cause problems for holiday travelers even in areas not expected to get significant amounts.

"We have snow on the ground in many areas, and any snow on top of that will combine for the potential to blow around, reduce visibility and drift, and cause problems for people trying to drive," meteorologist Jeff Savadel said.

State officials in both Dakotas issued statements urging people to be cautious.

Video: Weather woes move across Rockies (on this page)

In South Dakota, truckers carefully navigated the icy roads, with snow expected later in the day.

"It's getting bad," said Bob Grape, who had stopped at a gas station in Sioux Falls on his way north. Grape said he would keep moving through the weather unless it got significantly worse.

"There isn't a load of freight that's important enough to risk your life," he said.

In Iowa, at least three people died in weather-related crashes as freezing rain and drizzle left roads with a light glaze.

There were 23 accidents during the day Wednesday, police said. State officials say many northern Iowa roads were covered with ice and many schools in the region were closed early.

The storm crippled much of the Pacific Northwest Monday and Tuesday, and at least three deaths in Washington state have been blamed on the storm, including a man struck and killed outside his car Monday night on snowy Interstate 5 in Tacoma. On Wednesday, the temperature at Sea-Tac Airport dropped to 14 degrees, a 25-year low.

Officials in Portland, Ore., also were investigating whether a man whose body was found along the Willamette River died from the cold.

The storm shut down highways for a time in Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, and brought high winds on Wednesday to New Mexico and northern Arizona.

The roads were less chaotic in Utah on Wednesday. On Tuesday night, there were 118 traffic collisions and 119 vehicles that slid off the road, police said.

Video: Storm puts Pacific Northwest in deep freeze (on this page)

National Weather Service snow totals showed that it wasn't the quantity of snow that made for treacherous driving.

Most cities in Utah received less than 6 inches in the previous 24 hours — an amount residents here are accustomed to. Instead, the danger largely came from high winds blowing snow at night that made it difficult.

"A lot of people heeded the message, stayed off the road and cut down on a lot of problems," Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Todd Johnson said Wednesday. "The crash figures — they're not as high as I expected them to be."

The storm left 3 to 6 inches of snow in Utah's mountain valleys and up to 17 inches in the Wasatch mountains, NWS meteorologist Mike Seaman said.

"We're left with this unseasonably cold arctic air mass," Seaman said Wednesday. "We're looking at temperatures in the teens and the first hard freeze of the year for southern Utah."

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Even cold-hardened Alaskans were complaining about the weather, with freezing rain making travel hazardous if not impossible. Fairbanks was among the hardest-hit; schools closed and most government agencies and military bases told nonessential workers to stay home.

"I don't think the roads can get much worse," said David Gibbs, emergency operations director for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Andy Haner, a weather service meteorologist in Seattle, said the storm blew down from Alaska before turning toward the Northern Rockies. Forecasters say western Washington temperatures should rise above freezing for Thanksgiving, while eastern Washington faces a chance of snow and temperatures below freezing through the weekend.

"Sometimes we call them 'inside sliders' because they slide down the Inside Passage from Alaska," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Winter weather snarls holiday travel

  1. Closed captioning of: Winter weather snarls holiday travel

    >> travel, there have been issues. while the planned protest of new screening rules at the airports fizzled out, nasty weather is a problem not only on roads from coast-to-coast, julie martin is in chicago alongside one of the nation's busiest highways. good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning, natalie. so far so good in chicago . there is bad weather news out there. a system bringing a wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow, making its way across the east and northwest, will make that thanksgiving trip a lot more difficult for many. for some holiday travelers, getting to thanksgiving dinner is not going to be easy. there's a real mess in the middle of the country. rain, ice and snow hit parts of the plains and upper midwest wednesday. now, that messy weather is moving across the midwest and into the northeast. aaa reports 90% of people traveling 90 miles or more this thanksgiving will be doing so by car. for air travelers, the main concerns is slowdowns at security points. on wednesday, no major delays were reported.

    >> you can opt out. you can say no.

    >> reporter: despite a national call for travelers to opt out of tsa body scan, most travelers seemed more interested getting home for thanksgiving.

    >> doing what i have to do to see the folks.

    >> reporter: in los angeles l.a.x. one body scan had a traveler showing up in next to nothing.

    >> i don't think there's much place to hide anything in a bikini.

    >> reporter: and a youtube video showed a man disrobing.

    >> what are you doing?

    >> a safety precaution.

    >> reporter: and one protest showed a man showing up in t-shirt and boxers.

    >> in the event i'm chosen for a full body scan and i opt out, i'll be given a pat-down. the purpose of this attire is to make the pat-down as efficient as possible.

    >> reporter: despite people's concerns, the security lines ran even faster than usual.

    >> that's the hope for the next busiest travel day. that's sunday for the return trip home. we can expect to see some snow along the great lakes.

    >> julie martin in chicago for us. thank you.

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