Midwest storm causes chaos, 2 deaths on streets

A major snow storm that shuttered airports, caused hundreds of accidents, and played a role in two deaths, has made navigating the slick conditions treacherous.

Over 200 accidents have been reported as storm turns freeways into mess

Stranded vehicles litter northbound I-29 in Kansas city after the area was pounded with rapidly accumulating snow. (Keith Myers/The Kansas City Star/Associated Press)

Gusty winds and iced-over roadways made for treacherous Midwest travel as a major winter storm headed east over the Great Lakes.

Two deaths have been linked to the storm, including one in a fatal traffic accident in Minnesota. Collisions and slide-offs were widespread across the affected states. Commuters faced strong winds of Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin. While Chicago’s large fleet of snowplows salted and cleared the city’s streets of nearly 8 cm of snow, commuters slogged through slush to get to their offices. 

Crews work to clean up the streets in downtown Wichita, Kan. on Thursday, Feb. 21. Kansas was the epicenter of the winter storm. (David Coates, Detroit News/Associated Press)

About 270 flights in and out of Chicago’s two airports were canceled Friday morning. Arrival delays of up to 90 minutes were reported at O’Hare airport. The Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., airports both reopened but had numerous cancellations and delays.

The snow began falling in Detroit just in time for the morning rush, turning streets and freeways into a mess.

Head bowed and arms crossed, 45-year-old Patrice Denham pushed forward into Detroit’s swirling snow. She had just walked several blocks to her townhouse complex’s leasing office for a new mailbox key and was heading back home.

"You live in the city of Detroit and you do what you have to do," Denham said referring to the rough winter weather that regularly affects the city.

"If it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be cold." 

Where the storm struck hardest on Feb. 20 and 21, impressive snow totals rolled in — 43 cm in Hays, Kan.; 33 cm in northern Oklahoma; 34 cm in northeast Missouri and south-central Nebraska; and 30 cm in parts of Kansas City, Mo.

Manalo Tornes digs his car out shortly before sunrise Friday, Feb. 22 in Omaha, Neb. Areas affected by the storm Friday reported treacherous travel conditions. (Alyssa Schukar, The Omaha World-Herald/Associated Press)

As it moved farther north and east overnight into Friday, Feb. 22, the system lost strength. Illinois’ totals ranged from 19 cm in the west-central town of Rushville to a mix of sleet and freezing rain in the St. Louis, Mo., suburbs. Dodge County in southeastern Minnesota received 20 cm and Trempealeau County of western Wisconsin had 17 cm.

Students across a large swath of Kansas spent a second day at home as crews continue to excavate residential neighbourhoods. Schools were closed in parts of Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, including the University of Missouri, where classes were canceled two days in a row, one of the few times in its 174-year history.

Transportation officials in the affected states urged people to stay home. The Kansas National Guard had 12 teams patrolling three state highways in Humvees overnight to rescue motorists stranded by the storm.

Chaos on the streets

Travel continued to be the major concern on Friday.

The Minnesota State Patrol blamed the snow for over 200 accidents during the Friday morning commute. One driver was killed when a vehicle lost control, slid into oncoming traffic and was broadsided on a highway in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan. 

A death in western Iowa was also linked to the storm when a woman was run over Thursday by her car, which had gotten stuck on her steep, slippery driveway. 

Also in Iowa, a bus carrying members of a college softball team was involved in a multi-vehicle crash Friday morning. It closed part of Interstate 80 east of Des Moines, and no serious injuries were reported.

A United plane slid off a slick runway at the Cleveland airport onto a grassy area Friday morning. No injuries were reported. 

In some locations, the storm didn’t live up to the hype. At the Pilot Flying J station near Interstate 29 in southwest Iowa, shift manager Kelly Malone said his company had taken precautions by reserving seven rooms for employees at the nearby Super 8 Motel.

"We were prepared for the worst, but it didn’t happen that bad," he said. Iowa’s snow totals topped out at 24 cm near Sioux City. 

"To me it was just an average storm, but I’m a person who drives through anything," he said.