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Blizzard conditions, freezing rain and strong winds slow holiday travel

A tractor trailer veers into ditch on Christmas Day on Interstate 80 in Nebraska as a winter storm pummels part of the Midwest. Forecasters are predicting that heavy snow and blizzard conditions will continue through early Wednesday across part of the north-central U.S.
Nebraska State Patrol
/
AP
A tractor trailer veers into ditch on Christmas Day on Interstate 80 in Nebraska as a winter storm pummels part of the Midwest. Forecasters are predicting that heavy snow and blizzard conditions will continue through early Wednesday across part of the north-central U.S.

Millions of people are under winter weather alerts on Tuesday as a blizzard-fueling storm pounds parts of the Plains region and Upper Midwest, leaving holiday travelers facing dangerous whiteout conditions and travel delays.

The "significant" winter storm with heavy snow, freezing rain and potentially damaging ice is expected to last through early Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

A combination of high winds and snowfall could bring down tree branches and power lines across the High Plains into the Northern Plains, the NWS cautioned in a midday advisory. Meanwhile, the Dakotas and northern Minnesota are experiencing a mix of sleet and rain which could lead to dangerous ice accumulations of up to half an inch on roads across the region.

In Colorado's eastern plains, a blizzard shut down a stretch of Interstate 70 and disrupted dozens of flights at Denver International Airport, Colorado Public Radio reported. At least 350 flights were delayed at DIA Tuesday morning during the post-Christmas travel rush, according to the tracking website FlightAware. At least 16 were canceled.

As of 1 p.m. local time, drivers in the eastern plains were urged to limit or avoid travel due to high winds warnings on I-70, "especially for high profile vehicles like semi-trucks and light-weighing and smaller vehicles," the Colorado Department of Transportation said.

"High winds also may reduce visibility with snow," transportation officials said.

In Nebraska, the NWS warneddrivers to plan on slippery road conditions and patchy blowing snow that could significantly reduce visibility, slowing the evening commute.

"Travel should be restricted to emergencies only. If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle," the agency added.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation announcedit had closed portions of I-80 from Big Springs to North Platte — a stretch of about 74 miles — due to low visibility and hazardous driving conditions.

The NWS forecast an additional 6 inches or more of snow for portions of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming on Tuesday.

Freezing rain continued to drop on parts of the Red River Valley in Minnesota on Tuesday "after bringing both blizzard conditions and record warmth to the region over the holiday weekend," Minnesota Public Radio reported.

North Dakota's utility company, Cass County Electric Cooperative, was reporting more than 3,100 customers without power in parts of Jamestown, Fargo and Wahpeton.

"Conditions on the roads and right-of-ways are hazardous between the ice and now mud with the continuing rain, but our lineworkers are doing their best to restore power to as many members as possible," Cass County Electric Cooperative officials reported in an update Tuesday morning. "There are several thousand members without power and over 150 unique outages at this time, and it changes with the minute."

And about 3,100 Otter Tail Power Company customers between Bismark and Fargo were also in the dark as of 4 p.m. local time. While several crews were reportedly on their way, the company saidthey could not yet provide an estimated restoration time due to icy and wet conditions.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.