Midwest in deep freeze after storm cancels flights

Published 7:39 am Monday, December 13, 2010

CHICAGO  — A powerful storm that unleashed snow and strong winds across the upper Midwest left behind dangerously cold temperatures, promising a new set of challenges for people working to dig out.

The weekend storm closed major highways in several states, canceled more than 1,600 flights in Chicago and collapsed the roof of the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium. At least six weather-related deaths were reported. Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin before marching east into Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

The storm was headed northeast toward Canada, according to the National Weather Service, with some snow possible Monday in Michigan, northern Indiana through parts of Pennsylvania and New York. Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin during the weekend.

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Officials said plunging temperatures and winds could make clearing roads even more difficult and could lead to a slow morning commute, even in places where the storm had passed. With the wind chill, temperatures in some areas were expected to be well below zero.

“With the snow, pretty much the worst of it’s over, but we’re going to get cold temperatures through Tuesday,” said Jim Taggart, National Weather Service meteorologist in Chanhassen, Minn.

He said the weather the region is experiencing is what it “normally would get in January” but not December.

In Minneapolis, heavy snow caused the inflatable roof of the Metrodome to collapse Sunday. Video inside the stadium aired by Fox Sports showed the inflatable Teflon roof sagging before it tore open, dumping massive amounts of snow across one end of the playing field.

No one was hurt, but the Vikings’ game against the New York Giants had to be moved to Detroit’s Ford Field. The day of the game had already been pushed back from Sunday to Monday because the storm kept the Giants from reaching Minneapolis on time. Stadium officials were trying to repair the roof in time for the Vikings’ next home game, Dec. 20 against Chicago.

In the Chicago area, only a few inches of snow fell, but wind gusts of up to nearly 50 mph blew the roof off a building at Navy Pier and sent waves from Lake Michigan crashing onto Lake Shore Drive.

The wintry weather, with blowing snow that severely limited visibility, wreaked havoc on air and road travel.

At least 1,375 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport and more than 300 were canceled at Midway International Airport, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said.

Officials at O’Hare set up about 200 cots and provided amenity kits containing toothpaste and toothbrushes for stranded travelers, Pride said.

Jordan Ledoux was traveling back to Portland after a visit to Houston when he ended up stuck at O’Hare. He said it was possible he might not get home until Tuesday.

“This is the worst flying experience I’ve ever had,” he told WBBM-TV.

Major highways in several states were closed due to poor driving conditions and accidents.

In Indianapolis, police said a man fatally stabbed his wife, then died four blocks from his home Sunday morning when his vehicle hit a tree after he lost control on a slippery road. Police did not immediately release the names of the couple.

Seven vehicles crashed on Interstate 94 about 50 miles west of Milwaukee, prompting authorities to close the westbound lanes. A vehicle lost control on an ice-covered road and slammed into a tree in southeastern Wisconsin, killing 21-year-old Alejandria Abaunza of Chicago and injuring two other people inside.

In Michigan, authorities said an 80-year-old man was killed when his pickup truck rolled on a slick highway in Montcalm County. Weather also was believed to be a factor in a head-on collision in Livingston County that killed a 75-year-old woman.

AAA-Michigan said it helped 2,500 motorists on Sunday and had heard from hundreds more by 5 a.m. EST Monday.

“A lot of cars in ditches, spinouts, dead batteries,” spokeswoman Nancy Cain said.

Authorities also said weather played a role in the death of Douglas Munneke, 55, of St. Cloud, Minn. He died of a heart attack after collapsing while he was snow-blowing his driveway Saturday.

In western Wisconsin, a 79-year-old man snow-blowing the end of his driveway was killed when a plow truck backed into him.

Snow also blanketed Tennessee, where up to 4 inches was reported. WSMV-TV in Nashville said the weather forced several communities to cancel Christmas parades planned for Sunday.