Heavy snow and driving wind created near-blizzard conditions across a swath of the Midwest on Monday, grounding thousands of flights and snarling highways as America struggled back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The storm roared through the region from Chicago to Kansas. Some areas near Chicago were hit with a foot of snow, and the National Weather Service warned that totals could top out at 18 inches in some places.
“As a city we are used to snow, but this is our first of the season,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “This (storm) also brings unpredictability with strong winds and dropping temperatures.”
Almost 200,000 homes and businesses in Illinois were without power Monday, along with almost 50,000 in Michigan and Indiana. Parts of Illinois experienced whiteout conditions, 50-mph gusts and up to 2 inches of snow per hour.
The National Weather Service warned of dangerous travel conditions Monday but said the storm would loosen its grip on the region through the day.
O’Hare International Airport remained open but reported more than 800 flight cancellations. Flights that were making it out were delayed by an average of more than 40 minutes.
“Please check with your carrier for the most up-to-date flight info,” the nation’s third-most-busy airport warned on Twitter.
Chicago native Mark McCoy, trying to return to Florida after the holidays, was among scores of travelers stranded overnight at O’Hare. He said he “paid the price” for not heeding the weather warnings and leaving earlier.
“I was able to spend the evening here at beautiful O’Hare and had plenty of company,” McCoy said. “It’s all part of the Thanksgiving travel experience.”
More than 2,000 flights had been canceled Sunday and Monday, with more than 1,000 delayed on Monday alone. O’Hare was hardest hit, but Kansas City, Milwaukee, Omaha and Des Moines were among major arteries also scrambling with canceled and delayed flights.
Airline delays in or out of Chicago had a ripple effect nationwide. Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver and Boston were among other airports dealing with collateral scheduling issues. Upside: The weather led most major airlines to waive change fees.
The snow dropped almost 10 inches in parts of Idaho and Wyoming on Saturday night into Sunday. Jackson, Wyoming, was hit with 9 inches.
Paul Walker, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said blizzard and near-blizzard conditions were an issue from Topeka, Kansas, and Omaha, Nebraska, to Des Moines, Iowa, and Madison, Wisconsin. More than a foot of snow is likely in southeast Nebraska, northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa. Downed tree limbs and power lines will continue to cause power outages.
Major interstates to small back roads could see hazardous driving conditions, Walker warned.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declared a statewide disaster emergency. Parts of Interstate 70 were ordered closed in the state.
“The Kansas Department of Transportation has reported multiple road closures due to visibility,” Colyer said. “We strongly recommend you postpone travel plans due to the conditions if possible.”
In Nebraska, parts of I-80 were closed as snow and crashes snarled the highway.
The fast-moving storm is likely to drop heavy snow on parts of New England by Tuesday, a foot or more in northern New Hampshire and Maine. Temperatures will plummet Monday and Tuesday from the Ohio Valley to the East Coast. Conditions could be as much as 15 to 30 degrees below normal, especially in the middle Mississippi Valley and parts of the Ohio Valley.
Contributing: Ben Mutzabaugh and Kristin Lam, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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