Southwest, plains face blizzard warnings in big storm

OKLAHOMA CITY Sun Dec 18, 2011 8:02pm EST

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OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma were placed under a blizzard warning on Sunday as the Southwest and plains states braced for two days of bitter cold, heavy snow, rain and high winds.

The storm is expected to produce up to 16 inches of snow and wind gusting to 50 mph in the first major snowstorm of the winter for Texas and Oklahoma, the National Weather Service said.

A blizzard watch was also in effect until Tuesday for parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas, with high winds and up to a more than a foot of snow expected across the region.

The storm was expected to edge into the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado before heading east on Sunday night or Monday morning, the agency said in a statement.

By Monday night, conditions further east in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles are expected to have deteriorated so much that officials warned motorists to stay off the roads.

A blizzard watch or warning means forecasters believe life-threatening winter weather conditions are likely, including winds of at least 35 mph and visibility less than a quarter mile.

The mix of rain and snow will move into the Chicago and Detroit areas on Tuesday, forecasters said.

In Guymon, in the Oklahoma Panhandle, emergency management officials met on Sunday to go over storm preparations.

With wind gusts up to 50 mph predicted, blowing snow could cause problems, said Eddie Adamson, police chief in Guymon.

"That's the serious concern," he said. "With the blowing snow it makes it a blinding event."

Even so, residents appeared more busy Christmas shopping rather than stockpiling snowstorm supplies, he said.

"It's unbelievable. Right now it's 65 degrees," Adamson said. "Tomorrow we're expecting to have our snow boots on to make it to work."

As the United States readies for a week of holiday travel, weather officials warned of dangerous road conditions on Sunday and Monday in the plains, especially on Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle and on Route 54 in Kansas.

By Sunday afternoon, the Arizona Department of Transportation had issued warnings about winter driving conditions along Interstate 40 through the central part of the state.

In New Mexico, travel along Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque and on Interstate 25 north of the city was likely to be treacherous, officials said.

Paul Braun, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Transportation, said: "If you're going to travel Monday night and Tuesday, I would really, really, seriously, strongly advise against it. Once you get home Monday night, stay home."

(Steve Olafson reporting from Oklahoma City; Dennis Carroll reporting from Santa Fe, New Mexico; Karen Brooks reporting from Austin, Tx. Writing by Karen Brooks. Editing by Ian Simpson)

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