Blizzard conditions wreaked havoc in the Midwest and tornadoes ripped through Arkansas and Kansas as a burst of treacherous weather damaged homes, turned roads into ice rinks and sent cars spinning off highways.
A driver was killed in Arkansas when a suspected tornado scattered wood from a lumberyard across a highway and overturned cars Sunday, police said.
A 150-mile stretch of Interstate 70, the major east-west corridor, was closed from Denver to the Kansas line, stranding travelers headed home after Thanksgiving. Officials shut the highway after up to 25 cars were involved in an accident as visibility in the blowing snow dropped to nearly zero.
“We’ll just go when it’s safe. We have a four-wheel drive vehicle but that doesn’t make you any safer in this,” said Julie Ward of Wichita, Kan., who got one of the last rooms available at the Tyme Square Inn in Limon, Colo.
A blizzard warning was in effect until Monday afternoon in three counties along the Nebraska border.
'It’s just unbelievable'
The biggest trouble spot for travelers stretched from Colorado through Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, where blizzard conditions and freezing rain turned roads into icy swaths.
Drivers were stuck for miles around Fargo, N.D.
“It is bumper to bumper,” North Dakota Transportation Department district supervisor Bruce Nord said. “There’s slush on the road. It’s just unbelievable, the traffic. When one goes in the ditch, it takes three or four people along.”
High wind or tornadoes destroyed at least eight homes in Arkansas. Officials would assess other reports of damage Monday.
In Fort Riley, Kan., more than 30 homes were damaged when a tornado swept through town. Fort spokesman Army Maj. Christian T. Kubik said 17 families were left homeless.
“We were fortunate nobody was hurt,” he said. About 7,500 homes were without power in Arkansas late Sunday, Entergy spokesman James Thompson said.
In Texas, wind gusts of more than 50 mph toppled a 66-foot tall Christmas tree in Fort Worth and fed grass fires that destroyed at least six homes. No injuries were reported.
Dede Wilson said she was driving into downtown when she noticed the Douglas fir was no longer standing.
“I was like, where’s the tree?” Wilson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a story in Monday’s editions.
As much as 3 inches fell near Amarillo in north Texas, the National Weather Service reported.
Cpl. Pam Jetsel, a sheriff’s department spokeswoman, said a fire that started west of Cleburne, Texas, spread north and burned 1,000 acres and six homes. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Grass fires also were reported in north Texas — some of them reportedly sparked by power lines downed by the strong winds.
“When the conditions are so dry and the wind is so high, any kind of spark can be dangerous,” said Tom Reedy, a spokesman for the Denton County Sheriff’s Department.
In the Northwest, nine people were hospitalized, though none seriously, after a series of accidents on Interstate 5 about five miles north of Arlington, Wash. The accidents happened when a wave of rain and sleet blew through the area.
Rain delayed flights out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport up to an hour and a half Sunday morning, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said. Some 210,000 passengers were expected to pass through its concourses Sunday.
Two cross-country skiers missing overnight near the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness about 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colo., were found in good condition. Their names were not released.
Up to 18 inches of snow have fallen in that area, which is at about 7,500 feet in elevation.