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Fierce winds and snow snarl Great Plains travel

A deadly storm that halted travel throughout the Great Plains weakened Tuesday as it headed east into Missouri and toward the Great Lakes, and officials reopened interstates in areas where motorists had been forced to adjust holiday plans mid-trip.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A deadly storm that halted travel throughout the Great Plains weakened Tuesday as it headed east into Missouri and toward the Great Lakes, and officials reopened interstates in areas where motorists had been forced to adjust holiday plans mid-trip.

Authorities still were reporting snow drifts of up to 10 feet high in southeast Colorado, and Texas officials warned drivers to stay off the road in the Panhandle so crews would have a clear path to remove ice and snow. Major highways in the western half of the Oklahoma Panhandle remained closed.

Still, officials reopened Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, and portions of Interstate 70 in western Kansas that had been closed. New Mexico reopened a closed section of Interstate 25, the main highway from Santa Fe to the Colorado line after crews cleared drifts as high as 5 feet. The storm dumped as much as 15 inches of snow as it hit parts of five states.

At least 40 people were stranded at the Longhorn Motel on Main Street in Boise City, Okla., where manager Pedro Segovia said blowing snow had created drifts 2- and 3-feet high and closed the main road.

"Some people cannot even get out of their houses. There is too much snow," Segovia said. "It's was blowing. We've got big piles. It's real bad."

Receptionist MaKenzee Grove sympathized with the 50 or so people stranded at the hotel where she works in Guymon, about 60 miles east of Boise City. She too spent Monday night there.

"I have this rinky-dink car that does not do well in this," Grove said. "If we wouldn't have had the wind, it wouldn't have been as bad. The winds ... made the drifts really bad."

A few guests traveling to Oklahoma City managed to leave Tuesday, but others would likely have to wait another night before all roads were clear, she said.

Inbound traffic on I-25 approaches Santa Fe, N.M. in a single file as snow accumulates on the road, Monday Dec. 19, 2011 as a winter storm hit the area. New Mexico state police say a winter storm is shutting highways and causing difficult driving across northern New Mexico. Los Alamos National Laboratory and a number of schools have closed as the storm moves across New Mexico and into the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and parts of Kansas and Colorado. (AP Photo/The New Mexican, Clyde Mueller)Clyde Mueller / The New Mexican

In Kansas, schools in Manhattan canceled classes Tuesday, anticipating several inches of snow. The National Weather Service reported later that 3 inches or less fell.

To the east, a cold rain pelted the Topeka area, turned into a mix of light sleet and snow without much accumulation and tapered off. Forecasters said the storm became less potent as it moved northeast toward the Great Lakes.

Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Gardner said the patrol dealt with dozens of accidents in which motorists slid off highways Tuesday morning.

"We had ice-covered roads, covered by snow packed on top," he said.

The late-autumn snowstorm lumbered into the region Monday, turning roads to ice and reducing visibility to zero. Many of the areas hit Monday had enjoyed relatively balmy 60-degree temperatures just 24 hours earlier.

The storm was blamed for at least six deaths Monday, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in part of eastern New Mexico where blizzard-like conditions are rare, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van crashed on an icy road in eastern Colorado.

The Colorado Army National Guard said it rescued two stranded motorists early Tuesday in eastern Las Animas County, in the state's southeast corner, using a special vehicle designed to move on snow. Smaller highways in that area remained closed.

Authorities were investigating whether severe weather played a role in the crash of a single-engine plane in eastern Texas Monday night. Five people, including two children, were killed.

Ernest Contreras, of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the crash happened Monday night just before 10 p.m. (11 p.m. ET) in a farming and ranching community in Brazos County. Everyone on the plane was killed.

Contreras said the flight originated in Atlanta, stopped in Jackson, Miss., and was headed for Waco, Texas, when it crashed.

Contreras said the severe weather may have played a role in the crash, but authorities were still investigating.

Two adults, a two-year-old child and a teenager were found dead inside the plane, while another adult was found about 50 yards away, . said the pilot had spoken to air traffic control at Forth Worth after getting into bad weather and was told to take a specific course, but flew in the opposite direction, according to the DPS.

"It's a pretty horrific scene over there," Sgt. Charles Booker told

Meanwhile, said there was a chance of snow in the Northeast for the Christmas weekend.

"There are two possible scenarios for Christmas weekend in the Northeast," he said.

Erdman said an area including Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, and Boston could see accumulations of snow, although also with a chance of rain.

However he said under the second scenario, the I-95 Boston-to-Washington corridor could get "predominantly rain."


Associated Press writers Jeri Clausing in Albuquerque, N.M.; Roxana Hegeman, in Wichita; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso, Texas; Maria Fisher in Kansas City, Mo.; and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.