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Winter storm brings much of America’s heartland to a standstill

February 2, 2011
Lorries struggle through whiteout conditions on the I-70 highway in Missouri
Lorries struggle in whiteout conditions on the I-70 highway in Missouri. Photograph: LG Patterson/AP

A huge winter storm, described as the worst in decades, has brought much of America’s heartland to standstill, closing airports, main roads, schools, colleges and government officies.

The streets of Dallas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa were deserted, and more snow and freezing temperatures are forecast. Chicago is expecting 60cm (2ft) of snow, Indianapolis 2.5cm of ice.

The weather system, which stretches 2,000 miles across a third of the country from Texas to Maine, brought with it a cold front that has seen temperatures dropping to -12C (9F) and lower in its wake. Winds topped 60mph in Texas, while in Chicago public schools called a snow day for the first time in 12 years. Both the city’s major airports are closed. Chicago officials also the city’s iconic Lake Shore Drive after numerous accidents left motorists stranded for several hours. Officials said the move was temporary, but that they might have to close the road again if high winds whip up 7.5m (25ft) waves on Lake Michigan as forecast.

Everyone “should brace for a storm that will be remembered for a long time”, said Jose Santiago, the executive director of Chicago’s office of emergency management.

Many cities in affected areas began shutting down hours ahead of the snow. Scores of schools, colleges and government offices cancelled activities or decided not to open at all.

Large sections of midwest interstate highways were closed, and nearly 6,000 flights have been cancelledIn Missouri, more than 30cm of snow fell by midday.

“The roads are just pure white. There’s no traffic. Nothing,” said Kristi Straitof Clinton, Missouri.

Meteorologist Jeff Johnson of the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, said the storm would cripple transport for several days. The snow and wind were a dangerous combination, even in areas where not much precipitation was forecast, he said.

“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 added.

The storm emerged from the Rockies to hit Texas and Oklahomafirst. Blizzards halted production of the print edition of today’s Tulsa World, the first time in the paper’s 105-year history that it has not published an edition.

Both of Oklahoma’s major airports were closed, and the state called the National Guard to help search for stranded motorists. Outside Tulsa, at the Hard Rock Casino, the snow caused the partial collapse of a roof, but no injuries were reported.

Thousands of people in Texas were hit by power cuts, with the utility company Oncor reporting nearly 27,000 customers without electricity across the state.

The storm is expected to hit north-eastern states today.

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