Mon December 13, 2010
Around the Nation

Storm Shellacks Upper Midwest With Ice, Snow

Commuters in the upper Midwest braved snow-packed roads Monday as they returned to work after a weekend that saw up to 2 feet of wind-driven snow dumped on parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, resulting in several weather-related deaths.

The storm closed highways, canceled flights and even collapsed the roof on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium as it moved east toward Indiana and Michigan and into Canada. Officials warned of a slow Monday morning commute, as plunging temperatures and winds were likely to make clearing roads difficult. With the wind chill, temperatures in some areas were expected to be well below zero.

The American Automobile Association in Michigan said it helped 2,500 motorists Sunday and assisted 1,700 more as of noon local time Monday.

There were "a lot of cars in ditches, spinouts, dead batteries," spokeswoman Nancy Cain said.

In Indiana, LaPorte County sheriff's Deputy Andy Hynek said officials don't know how many people were stranded, but that some had been stuck for as long as 12 hours and many were in a 10-mile stretch of U.S. 30.

"All the way across U.S. 30 is at a standstill, and all of those vehicles are occupied," Hynek said.

Major highways in several other states were closed because of poor driving conditions and accidents.

"A large area of well below freezing temperatures cover much of the central U.S., and that cold air will be continuing to push east across the eastern U.S.," said Bruce Sullivan, a National Weather Service forecaster.

Jim Taggart, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Chanhassen, Minn., said the worst of the snow was over but that "we're going to get cold temperatures through Tuesday."

In Chicago, airports were working to get back to normal after the storm pummeled Illinois with snow and wind. O'Hare International Airport had canceled 75 flights as of Monday morning, a day after more than 1,600 flights were scuttled at the O'Hare and Midway airports.

Officials at O'Hare set up about 200 cots and provided amenity kits containing toothpaste and toothbrushes for stranded travelers, according to Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride.

Jordan LeDoux was traveling back to Portland, Ore., 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.

Chicago saw only a few inches of snow fall, but gusting winds of up to 50 mph piled up the drifts and also blew the roof off a building at Navy Pier.

Heavy snow in Minneapolis 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.

Facilities manager Steve Maki said it was caused by the "confluence of the heavy snow accumulation and the winds being especially strong."

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.

The Detroit Lions planned to start distributing free general admission tickets at 9 a.m. EST at the Ford Field box office. Some fans were there hours ahead of time, standing and shivering in the darkness and 12-degree temperatures, and the tickets soon sold out.

Wisconsin got up to 19 inches of snow in some parts over the weekend, causing "numerous accidents," said Tod Prichard, emergency planning coordinator with the Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency. "The blowing and drifting has really been an issue," he said.

At least six weather-related deaths were reported throughout storm-affected parts of the Midwest.

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.

Police in Indianapolis 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. Authorities did not immediately release the names of the victims.

In Wisconsin, 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 the southeastern part of the state, killing 21-year-old Alejandria Abaunza of Chicago and injuring two other people inside. Elsewhere, a 79-year-old man snow-blowing the end of his driveway died when a plow truck backed into him.

Authorities in Michigan said an 80-year-old man died when his pickup 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.

With reporting from Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville and Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio. This story also contains material from The Associated Press. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.