Interstate highways closed; more than 1,600 flights halted
CHICAGO – A powerful, gusty storm dumped mounds of snow across the upper Midwest on Sunday, closing major highways in several states, canceling more than 1,600 flights in Chicago and collapsing the roof of the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium.
At least four weather-related deaths were reported as the storm system dropped nearly 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and marched east. A blizzard warning was in effect Sunday for parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, according to the National Weather Service. Surrounding areas, including Chicago, were under winter storm warnings. Much of Iowa was under a wind-chill advisory.
In Minneapolis, the heavy snow left the Metrodome decidedly unready for some football. Video inside the stadium aired by Fox Sports showed the inflatable Teflon roof sagging before it tore open, dumping massive amounts of snow across one end of the playing field.
Today’s Vikings game against the New York Giants had to be moved to Detroit’s Ford Field. Stadium officials were trying to repair the roof in time for the Vikings’ Dec. 20 home game against Chicago.
The wintry weather, with blowing snow that severely limited visibility, wreaked havoc on air and road travel. In the Chicago area, wind gusts of up to 50 mph, temperatures in the teens and wind chills well below zero were expected, along with up to 8 inches of snow.
At least 1,375 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport, and more than 300 were canceled at Midway International Airport, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said. Both airports expected more cancellations and reported significant delays.
Major highways in several states were closed due to poor driving conditions and accidents.
The Illinois State Police closed a section of Interstate 80 in the north-central part of the state and part of Interstate 55 near Springfield after accidents and reports of zero visibility. No deaths were reported.
Seven vehicles crashed on Interstate 94 about 50 miles west of Milwaukee, prompting authorities to close the westbound lanes. A vehicle lost control on an ice-covered road and slammed into a tree in southeastern Wisconsin, killing 21-year-old Alejandria Abaunza, of Chicago, and injuring two other people inside.
Tod Pritchard of Wisconsin Emergency Management warned that Sunday afternoon would be especially difficult because temperatures were falling and at a certain point, road salt would no longer be effective. The storm had already dropped up to 18 inches of snow in parts of northern and central Wisconsin, he said, and light snow continued Sunday.
AAA-Michigan said it has been a busy day for its roadside assistance crews, with 850 calls from midnight through 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
“A lot of cars in ditches, spinouts, dead batteries,” spokeswoman Nancy Cain said. “It’s really the first big blast of winter weather statewide.”
Six people were injured Saturday when a van carrying 13 people hit a guardrail and overturned in Mecosta County, near Stanwood, Mich., in the north-central Lower Peninsula. Snow also blanketed Tennessee, where up to 8 inches was expected by this evening. WSMV-TV in Nashville reported that the bad weather forced several communities to cancel Christmas parades planned for Sunday.
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