Image: snow in Minnesota
Ann Heisenfelt  /  AP
Pedestrians make their way to a Minnesota college basketball game against Eastern Kentucky on the University of Minnesota campus during a snowstorm in Minneapolis on Saturday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/12/2010 1:22:48 AM ET 2010-12-12T06:22:48

A powerful snowstorm socked the upper Midwest on Saturday with as much as 21 inches of snow, forcing authorities to close state roads across five states as heavy winds made for treacherous driving conditions.

The storm started Friday in the Rocky Mountains and swept overnight into northern Nebraska and Iowa. By Saturday morning, the blizzard hit eastern South Dakota, northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

Eastern Minnesota's Oakdale area got 20 inches of snow as of Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The storm was moving eastward, where it dumped about a foot of snow in Chippewa County in northwestern Wisconsin and was expected to drop 20 to 24 inches by Sunday morning in the Eau Claire area.

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Flights in and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport ended at 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) Saturday, but one runway was reopened late in the afternoon. However, most airlines had canceled flights.

Iowa and South Dakota closed Interstate 29 from Missouri Valley to Sioux Falls due to high winds and ice and stopped plowing the area. I-90 in Minnesota was closed from the South Dakota border to Albert Lea.

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Giants delayed
The storm delayed the New York Giants from getting to Minnesota for their game against the Vikings, which was delayed until Monday.

With about a foot of blowing snow falling in the Twin Cities area and closing the airport Saturday afternoon, the Giants' charter flight was forced to land in Kansas City. Team spokesman Pat Hanlon said on Twitter the team will spend the night there.

The original plan was for the Giants to fly to Minneapolis early Sunday.

However, snow on the Metrodome roof became an issue.

"Due to the severe weather conditions and on the recommendation of Metrodome officials, the Giants-Vikings game will be moved to Monday night," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail. "The kickoff time at the Metrodome and television arrangements will be announced as soon as they are determined."

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Delta offers free changes
Delta Air Lines Inc. said Saturday it will allow people traveling to, from or through seven weather-battered states to change their flight plans this weekend for free because of severe weather.

The states affected are Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Only itineraries that begin before Dec. 14 are eligible for the free changes. Any fare difference between the original ticket and the new ticket will be collected at the time of rebooking.

Customers whose flights are canceled can request refunds.

Whiteout conditions seen
Strong north to northwest winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour, with gusts up to 50 miles per hour, have near whiteout conditions on many roads in eastern South Dakota, northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota, the weather service said.

Snowplows based in western Iowa towns were pulled from the roadways due to low visibility.

In Minnesota, transportation officials pulled plows off roads in open areas and told drivers to stay home because of worsening weather in the southern part of the state.

"We may even have road closures today. With this type of a storm, it's a blanket approach, because it's a visibility issue," Minnesota Department of Transportation spokeswoman Rebecca Arndt said. "Plows were pulled off the roads early Saturday because of visibility in the southwest and south-central."

Snow was falling at 1-to-2 inches per hour in the Twin Cities area before slowly easing its grip, the weather service said. The Twin Cities east metro area received 15 to 20 inches of snow by Saturday afternoon and was expected to see another 1 to 3 inches before the storm tapered off there.

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The State Patrol said there were 76 crashes reported statewide, but none with fatalities or serious injuries, and 319 reports of vehicles sliding off roads.

"The areas that were hardest hit are virtually impassable," said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske. "So we don't expect those numbers to go up a whole lot."

Up to 10 inches of snow was expected in northern Iowa, and 5 to 8 inches forecast in eastern South Dakota.

Video: Winter-like blast leaves mark (on this page)

The storm dropped more than 7 inches of snow on Sioux Falls and blew it around with winds up to to 53 mph, closing roads and causing dozens of accidents, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper reported Saturday.

The snow was expected to be followed by dangerously cold temperatures. Nearly all of North Dakota was covered by a wind chill advisory Saturday morning. North winds of up to 15 miles per hour were expected to combine with air temperatures at or below zero to drop wind chill readings to between 20 below zero and 30 below zero, the weather service said.

The wind chill advisory was in effect until noon in North Dakota.

The Omaha World-Herald reported late Saturday afternoon whiteout conditions with 2 to 3 inches of snow, icy roads and a windchill of minus 20 degrees had hammered the city. Power was out for about 2,500 utility customers.

Fundraising effort chilled
The weather was an unexpected burden for one Minnesota man who had pledged to camp out on the roof of a coffee shop to help his daughter's school raise money. Hospital executive Robert Stevens donned four layers of long underwear, heavy boots and a down coat before embarking on his quest Friday night.

He vowed not to come down until he had raised $100,000, but after reaching the halfway mark Saturday morning, he said he hoped the rest of the money would come fast. He didn't look forward to spending another night out in the blizzard.

"I think I've crossed the line into insanity," he said.

Stevens slept inside a tent surrounded by hay bales, swaddled in a double-insulated sleeping bag as he listened to the winds whip off Lake Minnetonka a block away.

Storm moves east
Arctic air was expected to move east, with lows below zero in the Dakotas and parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin on Sunday night.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and State Patrol issued an advisory Saturday afternoon for motorists to stay state highways immediately through Sunday night.

"Conditions continue to deteriorate and it is becoming critically important for vehicles to stay off the roadways," said State Patrol Superintendent David Collins. "We continue to monitor the highways, and will make determinations on whether to keep them open to ensure the safety of the motoring public."

A 150-mile stretch of I-94 between Tomah and Hudson was declared impassable Saturday night after about a foot of snow fell and hundreds of cars slid into ditches, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Late Saturday, the weather service downgraded the blizzard warning to a winter storm warning for the Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha area, but snow accumulations were still expected to reach 6 60 12 inches.

Blizzard warnings were in effect for the eastern Nebraska and western Iowa regions, which were expected to see up to 50 mph winds, about 5 inches of snow with wind chill values down to 25 degrees below zero before easing.

The weather service issued winter weather advisories for snow, poor visibility and hazardous road conditions Sunday for Michigan, central Illinois, the Chicago area and northwest Indiana, where 4 to 8 inches of snow were predicted.

A winter weather advisory was in effect also through Monday for extreme north Georgia.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Video: Winter-like blast leaves mark on Midwest

  1. Transcript of: Winter-like blast leaves mark on Midwest

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: We want to turn now to the storm that has blanketed parts of the nation's midsection with heavy snow today, snarling traffic on the ground and in the air. On its heels, frigid air that will put a lot of us on ice before the week is out. Here's NBC's Michelle Franzen .

    MICHELLE FRANZEN reporting: Whiteouts and wipeouts as a wintry blast barreled across the upper Midwest and Plains this weekend. In Minneapolis , many snowbound drivers ended up spinning their wheels. For the Twin Cities it is the snowiest December day on record, nearly 14 inches and still counting. Early on, transportation officials urged residents to stay home, and many stocked up on food and supplies before getting snowed in.

    Unidentified Man: I don't think we're going to leave the house.

    FRANZEN: Blowing snow closed airports and slowed the New York Giants ' travel plans to the Twin Cities for Sunday's game against the Vikings . Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon posted a photo on Twitter showing players stuck in Kansas City for the night. This major storm is expected to leave its mark as it moves east.

    Mr. ALEX WALLACE (The Weather Channel): So this storm's basically going to be moving its way from the Midwest all the way through the Great Lakes and eventually into the Northeast ; wide ranging impacts, from snow to rain.

    FRANZEN: It is the latest sign winter is here in a big way. Near Hagerstown , Maryland , on Friday, snowy conditions triggered a multivehicle crash on I-70 , injuring seven, including children. And in the Pacific Northwest , a massive snowstorm in Washington state closed parts of I-90 as snowplows tried to keep up. And it seems Mother Nature is just getting started. Another system is moving in on the West Coast . And in the Midwest and Northeast , residents are bracing for bitter cold conditions in the coming days. Michelle Franzen , NBC News, New

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