Winter storms sweep nation

Published 12:12 am Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow fell from the Plains across the Midwest on Saturday, accumulating as much as a foot in places, as the second wintry storm in a week barreled through on its way to New England.

Tens of thousands of people still had no electricity since the first storm slammed Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri earlier in the week. That storm was blamed for at least 38 deaths, mostly in traffic accidents.

Winter storm warnings and watches extended Saturday from Missouri across parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, the National Weather Service said. As much as 15 inches of snow was forecast in sections of southern Michigan, with 10 inches possible in Detroit.

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Snow started falling early in the afternoon in Pittsburgh but was expected to change to rain and freezing rain.

“We’ll have little bit of everything before the night is over,” said Bill Drzal, a Weather Service meteorologist in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh could see about an inch or two of snow, but areas to the north and east could see as much as 12 inches through Sunday night, according to the Weather Service.

In Chicago, more than 200 flights were canceled because of the weather Saturday at O’Hare International Airport, and other flights were delayed 30 minutes to an hour, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Gregg Cunningham. The problem was limited visibility in the falling snow, said United Airlines spokeswoman Robin Urbanski.

Concern about the approaching storm also led the University of Connecticut to cancel Sunday’s winter commencement ceremony. About 850 undergraduates had expected to receive diplomas Sunday, but school spokesman Richard Veilleux said officials were concerned about the safety of the students and their families and other guests on slippery roads.

Freezing rain was the culprit earlier in the week, coating streets, windshields, tree limbs and power lines with ice as thick as an inch in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Oklahoma, hardest hit by the earlier storm, got only cold, light rain early Saturday, turning to snow during the morning. One to 3 inches of snow was forecast.

Neighboring Kansas, however, had as much as a foot of snow Saturday morning, and the Highway Patrol reported Interstate 70 in central Kansas was snowpacked.

“We’ve had no fatalities or pileups, but we have numerous slideoffs,” said Mary Beth Anderson, a patrol dispatcher. “I don’t think there are a lot of travelers, just the ones who have to get out and go to work.”

More than 2,300 people were in Kansas shelters Saturday because of the power failures and the fresh snow, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the state Adjutant General’s Department.

“We just opened the National Guard Armory in Russell because of the amount of people needing shelter,” Watson said. “I think they’re mostly travelers because of the highway conditions there.”

At the height of the last storm, a million customers in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri were blacked out.

By Saturday morning, Oklahoma utilities said about 181,000 homes and businesses still had no electricity. Some 62,000 were still blacked out in Kansas, and Missouri utilities reported about 27,000 customers still off line.

Officials in Oklahoma had worried the new snow could hamper power restoration efforts, but it turned out not to be a problem.

“The first several days, crews were working on emergency restoration and getting the backbone of the structure up — the main feeders and transmission lines,” said Stan Whiteford, a spokesman for Public Service Co. of Oklahoma. “Now they’re really getting into the neighborhoods. The customers are coming on in bigger chunks.”