Winter Storm Brings White Christmas, Blizzard Conditions to Northern Plains

Mandan firefighters Shane Weltikol, left, and Chad Nicklos clear accumulating snow from outside the firehouse in downtown Mandan, N.D., as the Christmas Day blizzard intensifies on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016.
Mandan firefighters Shane Weltikol, left, and Chad Nicklos clear accumulating snow from outside the firehouse in downtown Mandan, N.D., as the Christmas Day blizzard intensifies on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016.Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune via AP

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By Daniella Silva and The Associated Press

A winter storm brought a white Christmas to the northern Plains on Sunday, with fierce blizzard conditions that threatened holiday travel plans as a wintry mix was expected to move further east.

Blizzard warnings were in effect in eastern Montana and swaths of North and South Dakota on Sunday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, with winter storm warnings issued in Minnesota, Wyoming and parts of Northern Nebraska.

The worst of the storm was battering the Dakotas with heavy snow and ice, potentially stranding those trying to get home from grandma's house — or anywhere else — according to the Weather Channel.

"I don’t think anybody’s going to be going anywhere, not if they’re smart," said John Rowe, a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel.

Hundreds of miles of interstate around the Dakotas were closed to commuters on Sunday evening. The North and South Dakota Departments of Transportation closed around 500 miles of highway, both citing “zero visibility” and hazardous driving conditions.

Forecasters cautioned drivers to keep alternate routes in mind and prepare for possible delays.

To the west, snow was also forecast for much of Idaho, Montana, Utah and northeast Colorado.

Even down in Arizona, parts of Interstate 40 and other highways in the state's high country were closed after winter weather hit, leading to multiple crashes. Nearly 50 miles of the I-40 in Arizona were brought to a complete standstill overnight due to multiple crashes and heavy snow on the roads.

Arizona authorities rescued a woman at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon early Saturday who had gone missing after her vehicle became stuck and she left to find help.

Karen Klein was in her vehicle with her husband and 10-year-old son when it became stuck on a snow covered forest service road on Thursday, the Coconino County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Klein had traveled approximately 26 miles in search of help, the statement said, and was found in an occupied building and taken to a local hospital after suffering from cold exposure. Klein’s husband and child had managed to hike to an area where they had cell phone service to call for help, the sheriff’s office said, and both were also treated for cold exposure, including frostbite.

Chris Barrett walks in low visibility conditions in downtown Mandan, N.D., during the Christmas Day blizzard on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. Most of the Dakotas and southwest Minnesota had turned into a slippery mess due to freezing rain Sunday morning before snow arrived later in the day as temperatures fell.Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune via AP

The Arizona Department of Transportation warned Christmas travelers throughout Sunday that additional snowfall and wet conditions were causing delays and accidents on several highways.

Related: From D.C. to Sydney: Christmas Festivities Around the World

The storm was moving north late Sunday, Rowe said, but North Dakota and northern Wisconsin were still forecast to see additional snow.

“Tomorrow in the Dakotas and in Minnesota the wind is going to be so strong that whatever snow is on the ground is going to be blowing all over the place,” Rowe said.

The storm itself was moving up into Canada, he added, but rain associated with the weather front was moving towards the Northeast.

Freezing rain was forecast to hit parts of Pennsylvania and New York late Sunday and into Monday morning, Rowe said. In Northern New England, commuters could expect a wintry mix in parts of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.