DES MOINES, Iowa – Weekend storms in the nation’s northern half knocked out power to thousands of customers Sunday and created nightmarish conditions for holiday travelers coast to coast on the first official day of winter.
Gusty winds in the Midwest, where wind chills dipped to minus 30 or lower, produced whiteout conditions that contributed to at least three vehicle pileups in Wisconsin and Michigan.
And blizzard warnings were issued for parts of Maine, where up to 24 inches of snow was expected. Forecasters warned that strong wind could create whiteout conditions and deep drifts.
“This is a classic nor’easter,” said meteorologist John Cannon. “It’s got all the features.”
Parts of Iowa and Illinois were under blizzard warnings. Power was knocked out to more than 35,000 customers Sunday in Illinois shortly after being restored to most who had lost it after a storm last week, utilities representatives said.
“There was so much icing down there on the trees and power lines; then the wind is coming through and knocking things down,” said ComEd spokeswoman Kim Johnson.
More than 70,000 homes and businesses in Indiana remained in the dark after an ice storm that struck Thursday. Wind gusts topping 30 mph hindered repair work, officials said.
Wind gusts up to 35 mph blew snow and contributed to a crash involving at least 30 vehicles Sunday in southwestern Michigan on Interstate 94, a major route between Chicago and Detroit, officials said. One man died in the pileup, which shut down six miles of eastbound lanes north of Stevensville, state police said.
At least four semitrucks and about a dozen cars crashed on a mile-long stretch of I-94 in neighboring Van Buren County, said state police Sgt. David Van Lopick. At least eight people were admitted to hospitals, he said.
More than 20 vehicles were involved in a pileup Sunday on Interstate 43 in Wisconsin’s Ozaukee County that briefly shut down southbound lanes. Eight people were injured, officials said.
Even hardy Minnesotans buckled to the cold, calling off a Minneapolis holiday parade Sunday that is automatically canceled if the wind chill dips below minus 20.
Temperatures in northern Maine early Sunday included minus 40 on the Big Black River in Aroostook County and minus 35 in Allagash. Gov. John Baldacci announced a noon start for state government offices today.
The storm battering Maine also produced sleet and freezing rain in New York and New Jersey, delaying flight arrivals. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport canceled about 150 flights Sunday.
As the weather interfered with airports in northern states, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston had delays on average of about five hours.