DES MOINES, Iowa – The first widespread snowstorm of the season plodded across the Midwest on Thursday, as whiteout conditions sent drivers sliding over slick roads and some travelers were forced to scramble for alternate ways to get to their holiday destinations.
The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and more than 19 inches in the Wisconsin state capital, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.
The storm led airlines to cancel about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday – relatively few compared to past big storms, though the number was climbing. Most of the canceled flights were at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway international airports. Aviation officials said Thursday night more than 350 flights had been canceled at O’Hare and more than 150 at Midway.
The storm made travel difficult from Kansas to Wisconsin, forcing road closures, including a 120-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames, Iowa through Albert Lea, Minn. Iowa and Wisconsin activated National Guard troops to help rescue stranded drivers.
In Iowa, two people were killed and seven injured in a 25-vehicle pileup. Drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn’t see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway.
“It’s time to listen to warnings and get off the road,” said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.