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Colossal storm roars through nation's heartland

By MICHAEL TARM,Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:06 p.m. HST, Feb 01, 2011


CHICAGO — A winter weather colossus roared into the nation's heartland Tuesday, laying down a paralyzing punch of dangerous ice and whiteout snow that served notice from Texas to Maine that the storm billed as the worst in decades was living up to the hype so far.

Ice-covered streets were deserted in Super Bowl host city Dallas. Whiteouts shut down Oklahoma City and Tulsa. And more was on the way. Chicago expected 2 feet of snow, Indianapolis an inch of ice, and the Northeast still more ice and snow in what's shaping up to be a record winter for the region.

The system that stretched more than 2,000 miles across a third of the country promised to leave in its aftermath a chilly cloak of teeth-chattering cold, with temperatures in the single digits or lower.

Winds topped 60 mph in Texas. The newspaper in Tulsa, Okla., canceled its print edition for the first time in more than a century. And in Chicago, both major airports gave up on flying until at least Wednesday afternoon.

The threat of high winds also had Chicago officials contemplating steps they haven't taken in years — starting with closing down the city's busy and iconic Lake Shore Drive because of the prospect of 25-foot waves caused by 60 mph winds washing over it from nearby Lake Michigan.

Everyone "should brace for a storm that will be remembered for a long time," said Jose Santiago, executive director of the city's office of emergency management.

The worst of the storm was expected later Tuesday evening, but many cities began shutting down hours ahead of the snow. Scores of schools, colleges and government offices canceled activities or decided not to open at all.

Large sections of busy Midwest interstates were closed, and nearly 6,000 flights had been canceled across the nation.

Early accounts indicated many people already planned to heed advice to stay home.

"It's going to be a ghost town," Chicago-area commuter Martin Berg said after arriving at a downtown train station.

In Missouri, more than a foot had fallen by midday, with no end in sight.

"The roads are just pure white. There's no traffic. Nothing," said Kristi Strait, who was working at Clinton Discount Building Materials in Clinton, Mo.

The storm was so bad in Polk County, 200 miles west of St. Louis, that emergency officials requested help from the National Guard because the county didn't have enough vehicles to get elderly residents and shut-ins to shelter if power would go out.

In state capitols across the Midwest and East, lawmakers cut short their workweek because of the storm. Normally bustling downtown streets were quiet, too. And many stores were closed, with signs on the windows blaming the weather.

But others weren't going to let the weather keep them from work. The bakery Chez Monet in downtown Jefferson City was open, adding hot oatmeal for chilled customers.

Owner Joan Fairfax said she drove to work without trouble. She wasn't sure about the ride home, but said she could walk if necessary.

"I have never missed a day of work because of weather in 20 years," said Fairfax, 54.

Meteorologist Jeff Johnson of the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said the storm was sure to "cripple transportation for a couple of days." The snow and the wind were a dangerous combination, even in areas where not that much snow was expected.

"You don't want to get caught out in the rural areas in your vehicle in this storm. It's a good night to stay home," he said.

The leading edge of the storm slammed first into Texas and Oklahoma after moving out of the Rockies. The blizzard halted production of the print edition of Wednesday's Tulsa World, marking the first time in the paper's nearly 106-year history that is has not published an edition.

Both of Oklahoma's major airports were closed. Outside Tulsa, at the Hard Rock Casino, the snow caused the partial collapse of a roof, but no injuries were reported.

In Texas, thousands of people were without electricity during frigid conditions. Utility company Oncor reported nearly 27,000 customers without power statewide, with nearly half of the outages in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Other electricity providers took precautions against major blackouts.

St. Louis-based AmerenUE had 1,100 linemen on standby, some borrowed from companies in other states. Six trailers stocked with wire, replacement lines and other goods have been dispatched to possible trouble spots.

Few outages were reported statewide by midday. But Chip Webb, Ameren's superintendent of reliability support services, expected that to change.

"There is ice on the lines," and it could be there for days, Webb said.

Ice-laden tree limbs can snap off and plummet onto cars or homes, sometimes with fatal consequences. Ice can also bend and break power lines. Frigid air also can prove deadly.

"If you don't have enough fuel in your vehicle, you can run out, the heat goes out — and people can even freeze to death," said Greg Cohen, executive director of the Roadway Safety Foundation.

Ice-coated roads were nearly empty in Dallas, where the few motorists who braved the unfamiliar terrain slowed to a crawl as they passed jack-knifed tractor-trailers on slick highways. But the NFL stuck to its Super Bowl schedule, holding media activities at Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington as planned.

Green Bay Packers fans Dieter Sturm and Mark Madson postponed plans to drive from Wisconsin to the Super Bowl in a Cadillac convertible, but said they planned to leave Wednesday morning if possible.

"We love driving in the snow," said Sturm, who works making snow for movies and commercials. "We love having the snow fall on top of us. We're from Wisconsin. We can handle that without a problem. The icy roads are another story."

The pair said they have a heating system that includes clothes dryer hoses laced inside their jackets that rest beneath their chins to keep their "faces from freezing solid," Sturm said.

In Ryan Stratton's house in northern Oklahoma, nine children and nine adults crowded played video games and hoped the storm didn't knock out the power.

The area tends to lose electricity in storms, Stratton said, and that's one reason he invited two other families to join him while waiting for this one to pass. They prepared by stocking up on propane and food, but a power outage would cut out some of the fun.

"We've got Rock Band, a PlayStation 3 in one room, a Wii in another, an old PS2 in another," Stratton said. "And we've got cable. ... It's a good chaos today."

___

Associated Press writers Don Babwin in Chicago; Jim Salter in St. Louis; Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee; and Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa, Okla., contributed to this report.







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