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Winter storm spreading snow, ice across Midwest

TOPEKA, Kan. - TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A powerful storm lumbered across the nation's midsection with heavy snow, sleet and rain Thursday, glazing roads and disrupting air travel but promising a white Christmas for some.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for parts of Oklahoma, North Dakota, Minnesota and Texas. It cautioned that travel would be extremely dangerous in those areas through the weekend and that drivers should pack a winter survival kit including flashlight and water in case of emergency.

Slippery roads were blamed for at least 12 deaths.

Winter storm warnings were in effect across the the Plains and the Midwest, with a foot or two of snow possible in some areas by Christmas Day.

Scott Blair, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Topeka, Kan., said the wind was becoming a serious issue in central Kansas, with wind speeds of up to 25 mph and gusts reaching 40 mph.

"We're going to see blowing snow," Blair said. "The big concern comes later when we see snowfall with the wind, causing reduced visibility."

Road conditions were particularly bad in northwest Kansas, where 8 inches of snow had fallen overnight. Interstate 70 was completely ice-packed in western Kansas.

"It's kind of hard to stay on the roads. You've got to go slow," Jason Juhan, a clerk at the Love's truck stop in Goodland, Kan., said Wednesday. "People are just trying to get through and get to where they need to as fast as they can."

Still, he saw an upside: "It's been a few years since we've actually had a white Christmas out this way."

Nearly 100 scheduled flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were canceled Thursday and dozens more were delayed, according to the airport's Web site. The Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City shut down one runway, causing a number of cancellations and delays.

Many travelers took the disruptions in stride.

David Teater, 58, and Aaron Mayfield, 29, both of Minneapolis, were flying to Los Angeles on their way to Australia for a diving vacation. They had given themselves an extra day for travel, expecting they would be delayed somewhere along the way for at least a couple of hours, and arrived at the Minneapolis airport with reading material and extra snacks.

"I'm thinking the runway should be cleared," Teater said.

Nick Shogren, 56, and his 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, of Park Rapids, Minn., were headed to Cancun, Mexico, for a 10-day vacation. They drove to Minneapolis on Wednesday, their usual three-hour drive taking an extra hour because of the snowstorm, and stayed at a hotel.

Shogren said they were looking forward to doing nothing but relaxing "if we can just get out of here."

Scheduled flights elsewhere, including Chicago and Bismarck, N.D., did not appear to be significantly disrupted.

The storm began in the southwest — where blizzard-like conditions shut down roads and caused a pileup involving 20 vehicles in Arizona on Tuesday — and spread east and north, causing weather advisories from the Rocky Mountains to Lake Michigan. Rain, freezing drizzle and snow that fell in parts of the Plains and Midwest on Wednesday were just a precursor to what was expected later in the week.

Slick, icy roads were blamed for six in accidents on Interstate 80 in Nebraska, four in crashes on I-70 in Kansas, one in Minnesota and one near Albuquerque, N.M. South of Phoenix, a dust storm set off a series of collisions that killed at least three people Tuesday.

The storm forced the closure of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, and led that state's governor, Mike Rounds, to cancel travel plans and stay in Pierre for Christmas. Rounds declared a state of emergency Tuesday before the storm even hit.

The winter blast follow a weekend storm that dropped record snowfall and interrupted holiday shopping and travel on the East Coast.


Associated Press writers Martiga Lohn in Minneapolis, Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, S.D., Michael J. Crumb in Des Moines, Iowa, and Caryn Rousseau and Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.


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