Slick, dangerous roads await holiday travelers

Bill Shipley walks through a snowstorm in Duluth, Minnesota, on Sunday.
Bill Shipley walks through a snowstorm in Duluth, Minnesota, on Sunday.

Highways were treacherous for holiday travelers Monday in the upper Midwest in the aftermath of a blustery snowstorm that blacked out thousands of homes and businesses and snarled air travel.

At least 11 deaths were blamed on the weekend-long storm, which led to multi-car pileups that closed parts of several major highways on the Plains.

Strong wind blew snow into whiteout conditions during the weekend, but conditions had eased Monday.

That wouldn't necessarily mean safer roads, authorities cautioned.

"The roads aren't quite as ice-covered, but we're still telling people not to drive unless they have to," Sgt. Tim Elve of the Dane County Sheriff's Office said early Monday. "The interstate is still slick and the rural roads are really bad."

Authorities had issued urgent pleas for travelers to stay home Sunday but officials worried that people would insist on driving Monday, regardless of the weather, to get to Christmas Eve destinations.

"I know it's the holidays, but we hope people use some common sense when traveling," said Sgt. Chad Breuer of the Grant County Sheriff's Department in southwest Wisconsin. "There are a lot of people saying, 'I'll just leave that much earlier,' but still, the roads are not favorable for traveling."

The storm rolled through Colorado and Wyoming on Friday, then spread snow and ice on Saturday from the Texas Panhandle to Wisconsin. On Sunday, snow fell across much of Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota and parts of Michigan and Indiana.

Up to 6 inches of snow fell on western Michigan, and freezing drizzle glazed some highways Monday morning in counties along Lake Michigan. The area of Madison, Wisconsin, got three to four hours of freezing rain early Sunday, making driving treacherous.

The storm system had blown out to sea Monday morning, but in its wake wind blowing at 25 mph picked up moisture from Lake Erie to create lake-effect snow in Buffalo, New York. Five to 10 inches of snow was possible there and in other parts of western New York by Tuesday morning, the weather service said.

Wind was measured at 88 mph over Lake Michigan, with gusts of 50 to 68 mph across the Chicago region, according to the National Weather Service.

Because of the wind, airlines canceled more than 300 flights Sunday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the city Aviation Department said. Municipal officials said the wind had knocked out nearly 170 traffic signals, and there were more than 500 reports of fallen trees and limbs.

More than 11,000 homes and businesses were without power at some point Saturday in Wisconsin because of the freezing rain, ice, gusty wind and heavy snow, utilities said. Michigan utilities reported some 31,000 customers were still without power Monday morning, and in Illinois about 15,000 customers had been blacked out.

At least three people in Minnesota, three in Wyoming, three in Wisconsin and one person each in Texas and Kansas were killed in traffic accidents that authorities blamed on the storm.

The fatality in Texas came in a chain-reaction pileup involving more than 50 vehicles, including several tractor-trailer rigs, on Interstate 40, police said. At least 16 people were taken to hospitals, police said.

Authorities believe the pileup, which shut down the highway for most of the day, was caused by near zero visibility in blowing snow and slippery pavement. Multi-vehicle wrecks on Saturday also temporarily blocked sections of I-70 in Kansas and I-29 in Missouri.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.