OMAHA, Neb. — Holiday travelers battled slick, icy roads and flight cancellations and delays on Wednesday as a major winter storm began to spread across much of the country’s midsection — and the worst of the weather was still expected to come.
The slow-moving storm was likely to intensify today as it continued its trek north and east, bringing heavy snow, sleet and rain to a large swath of the Plains and the Midwest. A foot or two of snow was possible in some areas by Christmas Day.
“It’s an usually large storm, even for the Plains,” said Scott Whitmore, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Topeka, Kan.
In northwest Kansas, snow started falling before sunrise Wednesday, after freezing rain had already iced up roads. Part of Gove County saw 8 inches of snow, though it was far lighter elsewhere, said Albert Pietrycha, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Goodland.
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A stretch of Interstate 70 in western Kansas was snowpacked by mid-afternoon, although it wasn’t closed — yet. The state Department of Transportation warned that travel would be almost impossible in northeast Kansas by this afternoon.
“It’s kind of hard to stay on the roads. You’ve got to go slow,” said Jason Juhan, a clerk at the Love’s truck stop in Goodland, Kan. “People are just trying to get through and get to where they need to as fast as they can.”
Still, he saw an upside to the weather: “It’s been a few years since we’ve actually had a white Christmas out this way.”
The storm began in the southwest — where blizzard-like conditions shut down roads and caused a pileup involving 20 vehicles in Arizona on Tuesday — and spread east and north, prompting weather advisories from the Rocky Mountains to Lake Michigan and part of the Four Corners region.
In Colorado, numerous minor accidents prompted state transportation officials to close a section of Interstate 25 from Wellington, Colo., to Cheyenne, Wyo., for several hours.
Parts of Nebraska were coated with ice that was up to 1/4-inch thick and a number of churches were already canceling Christmas Eve services in anticipation of more ice and snow. But residents were still waiting for a blizzard.
“It isn’t nearly as bad as they said it would be,” said jewelry-store owner Stan Soper of Ord, a town of about 2,300 in north-central Nebraska.
Slippery roads were blamed for at least six deaths — three in accidents on Interstate 80 in Nebraska, two in a crash on Interstate 70 in Kansas and one near Albuquerque, N.M. South of Phoenix, a dust storm set off a series of collisions that killed at least three people Tuesday.
In Chicago, more than 200 flights at O’Hare International Airport were canceled, along with about 60 flights out of Midway International Airport, the city’s Aviation Department said.
Mollie Sheridan, a 30-year-old artist from Philadelphia, had planned to fly to Ohio to be with her family for Christmas. Instead she was trying to sleep on a row of seats at Midway after Southwest Airlines canceled dozens of flights, including hers. She said her father was driving five hours to Chicago to pick her up.
“I’m not that frustrated,” Sheridan said. “I have a dad who loves me who’s coming to get me. It hasn’t spoiled my Christmas.”