CHICAGO – A winter storm blanketed the middle of the U.S. on Friday, leaving residents to dig out their cars and walkways from beneath mountains of powder snow while roads from the Great Lakes to Texas turned icy.
Hundreds of schools were closed in southeast and southern Michigan, where as much as 5 inches of snow covered the ground.
Commuters in St. Louis – which got at least 8 inches of snow – struggled to navigate through miles of snarled traffic and fender-benders.
And in the Texas Panhandle, the storm was blamed for causing a 40-vehicle pileup that left one person dead and shut down Interstate 40 for several hours Thursday.
It wasn’t so much the amount of snow that bothered some Midwesterners but the fact that their part of the country has been on a weather roller-coaster in recent days.
In the Windy City a couple weeks ago, a wind chill made single-digit temperatures feel far colder – leading residents to barricade themselves indoors while they worried about pipes freezing.
Then, one day last week, a 48-degree high at O’Hare International Airport had folks thinking about spring. But by that night, the temperature had plummeted into the single digits again.
“We saw a 60-degree single-day drop in St. Louis last week too,” said James Auten, a meteorologist with National Weather Service’s Central Illinois office. “Usually we’ll get cold and stay cold in the winter. But that hasn’t happened this year. Instead, we’re seeing an uncommon case of a lot of weather systems coming through back to back.”
More than 9 inches of snow delayed flights at Chicago Midway Airport on Friday, while 7-plus inches at O’Hare forced the cancellation of at least 600 flights, leaving travelers stranded.
Across the greater Chicago area, weather service officials said there was between 9 inches to 12 inches of snow on the ground.
The icy temperatures also proved problematic for at least one company that supplies salt used to clear roadways: Morton Salt Co.’s barges couldn’t get past ice in the Illinois River south of Peoria.
“Our phones have been ringing constantly. Our stockpiles are getting a little low,” said Joe Wojtonik, a spokesman for Morton Salt. “We’re hoping that Mother Nature likes us and gives us a break in the weather.”