Deadly snow snarls Midwest traffic

MINNEAPOLIS — Gusty winds and iced-over roadways made for treacherous Midwest travel Friday as a major winter storm headed east over the Great Lakes.

Two deaths have been linked to the storm, including one in a fatal traffic accident in Minnesota. Accidents and slide-offs were widespread across the affected states. Commuters faced strong winds of Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin. While Chicago’s large fleet of snowplows salted and cleared the city’s streets of 3 inches of snow, commuters slogged through slush to get to their offices.

About 270 flights in and out of Chicago’s two airports were canceled Friday morning. Arrival delays of up to 90 minutes were reported at O’Hare airport. The Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., airports both reopened Friday morning but had numerous cancellations and delays.

The snow began falling in Detroit just in time for the morning rush, turning streets and freeways into a mess.

Head bowed and arms crossed, 45-year-old Patrice Denham pushed forward into Detroit’s swirling snow. She had just walked several blocks to her townhouse complex’s leasing office for a new mailbox key and was heading back home.

“You live in the city of Detroit and you do what you have to do,” Denham said referring to the rough winter weather that regularly affects the city. “If it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be cold. But this has been only an average winter.”

Where the storm struck hardest Wednesday and Thursday, impressive snow totals rolled in — 17 inches in Hays, Kan.; 13 inches in northern Oklahoma; 13 ½ inches in northeast Missouri and south-central Nebraska; and 12 inches in parts of Kansas City, Mo.

As it moved farther north and east overnight and into Friday, the system lost strength. Illinois’ totals ranged from 7.5 inches in the west-central town of Rushville to a mix of sleet and freezing rain in the St. Louis, Mo., suburbs. Dodge County in southeastern Minnesota received 8 inches by Friday morning, and Trempealeau County of western Wisconsin had 7 inches.

Students across a large swath of Kansas spent a second day at home as crews continue to excavate residential neighborhoods. Schools also were closed Friday in parts of Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Kansas Legislature was back in session Friday after canceling its meetings Thursday, but lawmakers’ schedule was light.

Travel continued to be the major issue Friday.

A United plane slid off a slick runway at the Cleveland airport onto a grassy area Friday morning. No injuries were reported.

The Minnesota State Patrol blamed the snow for over 200 accidents during the Friday morning commute. One driver was killed when a vehicle lost control, slid into oncoming traffic and was broadsided on a highway in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan.

A death in western Iowa was also linked to the storm when a woman was run over Thursday by her car, which had gotten stuck on her steep, slippery driveway.

Also in Iowa, a bus carrying members of a college softball team was involved in a multi-vehicle crash Friday morning. It closed part of Interstate 80 east of Des Moines, and no serious injuries were reported.

In some locations, the storm didn’t live up to the hype. At the Pilot Flying J station near Interstate 29 in southwest Iowa, shift manager Kelly Malone said Friday his company had taken precautions by reserving seven rooms for employees at the nearby Super 8 Motel.

“We were prepared for the worst, but it didn’t happen that bad,” he said. Iowa’s snow totals topped out at 9.7 inches near Sioux City.

“To me it was just an average storm, but I’m a person who drives through anything,” he said.

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