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Winter Paralyzes Midwest Wind-Driven Snow Hammers Much Of Nation’s Midsection

Mon., March 9, 1998

More than a foot of wind-driven snow paralyzed travel across the central Plains and Midwest on Sunday, filling roadside motels with idled motorists and stranding others in their cars. One traffic death was blamed on the storm.

A 250-mile stretch of Interstate 80 across Nebraska was closed for a second day, with other roads closed in Kansas. Snow carried by 40 mph wind cut visibility nearly to zero in places and drifts were reported up to 8 feet high in Des Moines, Iowa.

Many churches called off services.

“It’s nasty out,” said Chris Robertson, 46, a clerk who managed to get to work at an Omaha convenience store.

Even snowplows got stuck in places. Highway departments pulled their plows off the roads in southeastern Nebraska and parts of Iowa.

“It’s drifting back (on the roads) as soon as we get them plowed off,” said Harold Jensen, engineer in Iowa’s Story County. “We’re saving our plows for (Monday) morning.”

An undetermined number of people were snowbound in their cars along a highway near Nebraska City, southeast of Lincoln in the state’s southeast corner, said Diane Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bend Nelson. She said there was no immediate word on how long they had been stranded. State and local authorities organized a rescue mission.

The snow blew out of the central Rockies on Saturday, closing some roads in Colorado, and by Sunday stretched from Kansas to Upper Michigan.

Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa bore the brunt of the storm, with 13 inches of snow Sunday in central Iowa, a foot in parts of Nebraska and 9 to 10 inches in Kansas. Wind gusting to more than 50 mph blew cars off slippery roads near Grand Island on Saturday.

“Anybody that’s crazy enough to go out there is going to get stuck,” said Nebraska State Patrol dispatcher Steve Hamer.

Rain, sleet and snow also made travel hazardous in parts of Wisconsin.

“I can’t hardly get out of the parking lot. We’ve plowed it three times,” said Rose Fredrickson, a manager at a truck stop in Verona, Wis.

Flights in and out of Des Moines International Airport were canceled for part of the day.

Stranded motorists filled up roadside motels in Kansas, where a woman was killed when her 15-year-old boy lost control of their car on a slippery road.

About 45 students from the University of Wisconsin-Stout at Menomonie spent the night snowbound at a truck stop along I-80 west of Omaha, watching movies on television and talking about the weather. They had been headed for Jackson, Wyo., on a ski trip.

“This is my one week of vacation,” said Dave Kleber, 23.

About 6 inches of snow fell in the Oklahoma Panhandle as gusting winds made driving difficult and caused crowding at homeless shelters.

It was only the second major snowstorm of the season for Nebraska, which was largely missed by a storm that buried the western Dakotas and eastern Montana a week earlier.

The northern Plains has had an unusually mild winter because of the weather patterns set up by El Nino, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Fobert in Omaha.

However, Fobert said he could not pin this specific storm on El Nino because Nebraska usually gets a major snowstorm in March and even April.

Tags: weather

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