February 1, 2011 / 12:45 AM / 8 years ago

Midwest braces for monster winter blizzard

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Midwest braced for a massive and potentially dangerous winter storm on Monday with forecasts of up to 2 feet of snow and strong winds that could make travel virtually impossible.

Storms systems are seen over the central US in an infrared satellite image taken February 1, 2011. REUTERS/NOAA/Handout

The Rockies got an early blast from an ice storm that glazed the Denver metropolitan area on Monday, snarling traffic and forcing delays at Denver International Airport, followed by snowfall and plunging temperatures.

Denver’s high for Tuesday was forecast at 1 degree below zero Fahrenheit, with a low of minus 17 degrees and wind-chill values at 30 below predicted for overnight Tuesday.

But the nation’s midsection was expected to bear the brunt of the latest winter storm.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning and hazardous weather outlook for the Chicago area, calling for frigid temperatures, wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour and heavy snow on Tuesday.

The storm could be the biggest since a 1967 blizzard paralyzed the city, Chicago officials said.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued a state disaster declaration on Monday ahead of the storm, and at least two other states, Oklahoma and Missouri, declared emergencies in advance.

In Kansas, where icy roads were blamed for one traffic death on Monday and numerous other accidents, the governor said state offices would be closed on Tuesday due to weather.

Officials were making similar preparations as far East as Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Office of Personnel Management urged federal employees to consider working from home on Tuesday and Wednesday.

United and Continental Airlines were allowing travelers affected by the weather in the Midwest and Northeast to change flights without fees from January 31 through February 3.

The weather system was expected to bring ice storms Monday night through early Wednesday to a region stretching from the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas across the Midwest and Ohio Valley and into New York, according to weather.com.

Snow and fierce winds were forecast to hit the southern Plains on Monday night and push northward into the Great Lakes on Tuesday.

In the South, severe thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts will race eastward from eastern Texas to Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to weather.com.

“When everything is said and done, the storm may well impact a third of the population of the United States; approximately 100 million people,” meteorologist Tim Ballisty wrote on weather.com.

Officials urged residents to stock up on food and medicine in advance of the storm in Chicago, which faced the possibility of flooding from 25-foot waves expected on Lake Michigan.

Chicago snowfall totals of over 18 inches are possible Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, especially near Lake Michigan, according to the National Weather Service, and city officials cited forecasts of as much as 2 feet. The Weather Service called the storm “dangerous, multifaceted and potentially life-threatening.”

“Conditions will rapidly deteriorate from north to south across the region Tuesday afternoon with travel likely becoming virtually impossible at times Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning,” the Weather Service warned.

The city of Chicago planned to deploy its entire fleet of 274 snow plows and to fit garbage trucks with extra plows.

In Kansas Monday afternoon, icy roads were cited as a factor in numerous car accidents, including one in which a 61-year-old woman died when she lost control of her vehicle near the town of Kensington, the highway patrol said.

An Arctic air mass moving into the Rockies was expected to push wind chills to 20 below zero and lower across central and eastern Idaho Monday night and Tuesday.

Ranching communities in the Upper Snake River Plain and Snake Highlands on the Montana border braced for wind chills of 45 degrees below zero. The National Weather Service advises that livestock could be exposed to life-threatening conditions if left outside. That region has large cattle operations.

Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman, Keith Coffman and Kevin Murphy, Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune

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