* Blizzard warnings issued for Plains, western Midwest
* Part of I-70 in Colorado closed by blowing snow
* Many areas to have a White Christmas
(Updates with details of Texas accidents)
By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, Dec 19 A major U.S. winter storm, which
started Tuesday in the Rocky Mountains, could dump more than a
foot of snow in some areas of the central Plains late Wednesday,
the National Weather Service said.
"It has evolved into a full-fledged blizzard around the
Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas border area," said Alex Sosnowski,
meteorologist for Accuweather.com. "It's a pretty nasty storm."
The storm marks a major change from the mild December so far
in most of the nation. Many parts of the country could see a
White Christmas. More storms are expected in the middle of next
Winds as high as 66 miles per hour (106 km per hour) were
blowing dust and sand in western Texas, causing a string of
traffic accidents along Interstate 27 north of Lubbock on
Wednesday afternoon. More than 20 cars were involved in
accidents that killed one person and injured 17 others along a
5-mile (8-km) stretch of road.
Corporal John Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Texas Department
of Public Safety, said the fatality involved a semi-trailer
crashing with a sports utility vehicle, killing the person in
The injuries to the other 17 people were minor to moderate,
"You could hear them in the dirt" crashing, Gonzalez said.
"But you couldn't see them. You couldn't see nothing out there.
Couldn't see the front hood of your vehicle."
In western Nebraska, the State Patrol closed a 146-mile
portion of Interstate 80 between Kearney and Ogallala Wednesday
evening because blowing snow reduced visibility and
caused treacherous driving conditions.
The patrol said extremely dangerous weather conditions were
forecast through the overnight hours across a good portion of
the state, and travel was not recommended.
In Colorado, Interstate 70 was closed east of Denver to the
Kansas state line due to high winds blowing snow into drifts and
reducing visibility, said Mindy Crane, spokeswoman for the
Colorado Department of Transportation.
Several other roads in eastern Colorado were closed because
of the blizzard conditions, she said.
Crane said a stretch of Interstate 70 in the mountains near
the ski resort of Vail was closed temporarily on Wednesday so
crews could do work to prevent avalanches.
Blizzard warnings have been issued Wednesday in parts of
Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin
and Michigan, meteorologists said.
The heaviest snow is falling at a rate of up to an inch per
hour in parts of Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. The worst of the
blizzard is expected to hit communities from Omaha, Nebraska, to
Green Bay, Wisconsin, Wednesday night into late Thursday,
according to Accuweather.com.
In Chicago, the storm is expected to begin as rain and later
change to snow Thursday, Sosnowski said.
Heavy snow and high winds were expected anywhere from the
central plains into the Midwest/Great Lakes regions through much
of the day Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
Hazardous travel conditions were expected through Thursday and
into early Friday.
Moisture off the Gulf of Mexico is expected to cause rain in
the lower Mississippi River Valley Thursday, pushing east into
the southeastern states Friday.
In the West, a system along the Pacific coast will bring
scattered snow and rain showers into the northwestern states,
according to the weather service. Over a foot of snow is
expected in the higher elevations of the Washington Cascades and
(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Matthew
Waller in San Angelo, Texas; Reporting By Mary Wisniewski;
Editing by Greg McCune, Bob Burgdorfer and Lisa Shumaker)