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Winter storm in Midwest; tornadoes punch Deep South

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Posted at 9:25 AM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-03 09:25:46-05

Heavy snow and high winds continued to sweep across much of the Midwest with near-blizzard force on Tuesday, causing highway closures in Nebraska and flight cancellations in Colorado.

The storm that threatened to affect turnout in Monday’s Iowa caucuses moved in more slowly than expected, but came in force on Tuesday, bringing high winds and low visibility to the Hawkeye State.

Nasty weather also hammered the South, with tornado warnings issued in Mississippi and Alabama.

At least two tornadoes hit Mississippi, including in Shuqualak, the National Weather Service in Jackson said.

There were reports of damage in Collinsville to a church and several homes, said Dinah Farmer with the Lauderdale County Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, said a tornado cut through Pickens County on Tuesday evening. Sky Hallmon, an emergency official with the county, said several homes and mobile homes were damaged. Administrative offices for a federal prison also were damaged, he said.

In Nebraska, Cale Carlson, a farmer in Marquette, Nebraska, tweeted images of 3 feet of snow pressed up to his door by blistering winds, along with the hashtag: “#snowmageddon2016.”

The bulk of the storm reached Nebraska and Iowa on Tuesday morning and afternoon. At 9 a.m., Des Moines, Iowa, got sustained winds of 29 mph with gusts at 43 mph, while visibility was between a quarter-mile and three-quarters of a mile, close to blizzard conditions. A blizzard has sustained winds or frequents gusts of 35 mph or greater, and snow that restricts visibility to a quarter-mile or less for three hours or longer, according to the National Weather Service.

There was a chance of winter weather in Iowa on Monday night during the caucuses there, but snow didn’t begin to enter the state until after 8 p.m. That moisture moved more slowly; the heavy precipitation didn’t begin until after 10 p.m.

Police posted time-lapse video to Twitter of passable but treacherous highways around Omaha.

Interstate 80 in Nebraska was closed from Lincoln (exit 399) to North Platte (exit 179). Conditions farther west have deteriorated to little to no visibility, said Jeni Lautenschlager, a service manager for the state’s roads department.

“Crews have been pulled off the road because of conditions,” she said.

In Kansas, sections of 13 highways were closed and the other roads were icy and slippery, said Kim Qualls of the Department of Transportation.

In Minnesota, a snow emergency has been declared in Minneapolis, according to the city’s website.

Parking restrictions were in effect for 1,000 miles of road, the city said.

The weather also is affecting air travel in the region. Denver International Airport tweeted Tuesday morning: “About 125 canceled flights,” and a number of flights were delayed up to an hour or more, according to flydenver.com. The airport said they have “500 trained employees and 250 pieces of equipment [to] help keep runways clear.”

According to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com, almost 700 flights that originated or landed in the United States were canceled Tuesday. Not every flight cancellation on the website is due to weather.