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February 22, 2013

Snowstorm dies down, Midwest travel woes tick up

McALESTER — DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A snowstorm left behind varying amounts of snow and ice across the Midwest, but those areas affected were united by one thing Friday morning: difficult travel conditions.

Powerful wind gusts created large snow drifts on many roadways, making navigating the slick conditions a challenge. Accidents and slide-offs were reported from Kansas to Michigan as the storm pushed east Friday.

Strong gusts off Lake Michigan caused problems for commuters in eastern Wisconsin. Chicago’s more than 280 snowplows salted and cleared the city’s streets, while commuters slogged through slush to get to their offices.

But 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. To me it was just an average storm, but I’m a person who drives through anything,” he said. Iowa’s snow totals topped out at 9.7 inches near Sioux City.

About 270 flights in and out of Chicago’s two airports were canceled Friday morning, according to the airline tracking website FlightAware.com. Kansas City International Airport and Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Mo., both reopened Friday morning, but cancellations were possible. Lambert spokesman Jeff Lee told KMOX that many flights were being affected by snow in other cities.

There were some impressive snow totals — 17 inches in Hays, Kan.; 13 inches in northern Oklahoma; 13  1/2 inches in south central Nebraska; and 10 inches near Kansas City, Mo.

Other areas had accumulation more in line with a regular winter system. Wisconsin topped out at 6 inches in New London. Minnesota ranged from 2 to 6 inches of snow, with Dodge County getting 8 inches. Northern Indiana’s top total was 4 inches in Crown Point, close to the Illinois border, and Indianapolis was dealing with ice-coated surfaces.

Schools were closed in parts of Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

That included the University of Missouri, where classes were canceled two days in a row, one of the few times in its 174-year history. Chancellor Brady Deaton said Friday the road conditions in Columbia would make it difficult for many to reach campus.

But on Thursday, students trekked out to a local Wal-Mart, making a beeline for the aisles containing sleds and alcohol.

“This isn’t our usual Thursday noon routine,” Lauren Ottenger, a senior economics major from Denver, said as she stockpiled supplies.

Transportation officials in the affected states urged people to stay home on Thursday. The Kansas National Guard had 12 teams patrolling three state highways in Humvees overnight to rescue motorists stranded by the storm.

The storm brought some relief to a region that has been dealing with its worst drought in decades.

Vance Ehmke, a wheat farmer near Healy, Kan., said the nearly foot of snow was “what we have been praying for.” Climatologists say 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.

At a Travel Centers of America truck stop in the central Illinois city of Effingham, all of the 137 parking spaces were filled by truckers unwilling to drive through the storm overnight.

“When it gets really bad, they like to camp out,” cashier Tia Schneider said Thursday, noting that some drivers called ahead. “They can make reservations from 500 miles away to make sure a space is available.”

———

Associated Press writers Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia, Mo.; Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Mo.; Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Neb.; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; Tim Talley in Oklahoma City; Jim Salter in St. Louis; and Erin Gartner and Herbert G. McCann in Chicago contributed to this report.

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