Travelers facing canceled flights and closed roads were hoping to finally head to their holiday destinations as a widespread snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest moved across the Great Lakes towards Canada.
The storm, that began in the Rockies earlier in the week, led airlines to cancel more than 1,000 flights and caused whiteout conditions that left roads dangerous to drive on. It was blamed for deaths in at least five states, with parts of Iowa and Wisconsin hit with more than a foot of snow.
While some people went to work on digging themselves out even as the storm continued today, others had less control as they waited for word of new flight times.
As the blizzard moved towards New York, travel problems increased for those flying home for the holidays today. Thunderstorms were predicted early this morning with torrential rain and winds up to 74mph. As the storm passes on Saturday, snow was expected in New York City – the first flakes since November.
Some flights arriving at La Guardia this morning have been delayed up to three hours. Flights were grounded at JFK until 7.15am due to high winds. Newark Airport officials warned travelers to check for updates as delays were likely.
Most of the canceled flights were in Chicago, where more than 350 flights have been called off at O’Hare International Airport and more than 150 at Midway International Airport.
United Airlines also planned to operate a full schedule, though officials for both airlines cautioned travelers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.
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, Minnesota.
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.
In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died on Tuesday night.
On the southern edge of the storm system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs in Alabama.
The flight cancellations were getting a lot of attention because the storm came just a few days before Christmas. But Daniel Baker, CEO of flight tracking service FlightAware.com, called it ‘a relatively minor event in the overall scheme of things’.
By comparison, airlines canceled more than 13,000 flights over a two-day period during a February 2011 snowstorm that hit the Midwest. And more than 20,000 flights were canceled during Superstorm Sandy.