Deadly snowstorm slams road, air travel in Midwest

CHICAGO Tue Mar 5, 2013 6:26pm EST

1 of 4. A worker uses a snow blower to clean the steps in front of the Cloud Gate Sculpture, also know as ''The Bean'' during snow in Chicago March 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A deadly late winter storm dumped heavy snow on the Midwestern United States on Tuesday, contributing to numerous automobile accidents on highways and flight cancellations as it moved east toward the Ohio Valley and the mid-Atlantic states.

In Chicago, where the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning effective through midnight, residents girded for between 4 to 8 inches of snow - much of it expected to fall during the evening commute.

As rush hour began, wind-whipped snow was falling at a heavy rate throughout the Chicago area, according to the Illinois State Patrol, reducing visibility to less than half a mile and causing heavy delays on roads in the region.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman with the Illinois State Patrol, said bad weather may have been a contributing factor in a deadly crash on Interstate Highway 70 in Marshall, Illinois near the Indiana border.

A female driver headed east on I-70 crossed the median and crashed into a westbound tanker trunk. The driver of the car and her young child died in the accident.

Most of the other weather-related incidents the state patrol responded to on Tuesday were spinouts involving single vehicles, Bond said.

More than 1,100 flights were canceled in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Another 107 more were canceled at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to the FlightAware.com flight tracking service.

At a late morning press conference hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city's Office of Emergency Management & Communications said nearly 300 snow plows were working to keep the city's 4,100 miles of roads clear.

Southwest Airlines canceled all of its flights in and out of Chicago's Midway Airport through 6 p.m. as a precaution, the Chicago Department of Aviation said.

Hundreds of schools were closed in northern Illinois, according to local media. But for the more than 400,000 students enrolled in Chicago's public school system, the nation's third-largest school district, normal class schedules were in effect, according to the district.

Roads in northwest Illinois had patches of ice and snow on Tuesday and road crews were bracing in northeast Illinois for the storm, which began dropping snow on Chicago near the middle of the morning rush hour.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said that as of noon Central time, there were no serious crashes anywhere in the state and no traffic accident fatalities blamed on the storm.

In western Wisconsin, a semi-tractor flipped off an Interstate 94 bridge and fully submerged in the Red Cedar River in Menomonie early Tuesday, said Christine Ouellete, a Wisconsin Transportation Department spokeswoman.

Wisconsin rescue crews recovered the body of a man thought to be the driver of the truck and were searching for the body of his co-driver, who was presumed dead, State Patrol Lieutenant Jeff Lorentz said.

Wisconsin's transportation department listed numerous roads as snow-covered or slippery from the storm across southwestern Wisconsin, but no road closings.

Slick roads contributed to numerous crashes and a slow commute across the border in Minnesota. Driving conditions remained difficult along highways in parts of North Dakota.

Minnesota's public safety department reported 122 crashes, but no fatalities from the storm so far. Several spots around the Twin Cities area reported nine inches of snow and driving conditions on highways throughout the Twin Cities were still listed as "difficult" hours after the storm passed through.

The storm was expected to move eastward over the Ohio Valley and then the central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic states on Wednesday, hitting Washington with its biggest snowfall in possibly two years, the National Weather Service said.

Winter storm warnings were in effect for all or parts of 16 states from the Upper Midwest to the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said.

The storm was forecast to move across Ohio and the Tennessee Valley and merge with a developing storm off the mid-Atlantic states that could produce heavy, wet snow overnight and through Wednesday into the mid-Atlantic states that could bring down trees and power lines, Vaccaro said.

"It will be a wet, heavy, gloppy snow consistent with wallpaper paste," he said.

(Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis, Jane Sutton in Miami and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Andrew Hay and Bernard Orr)

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