Midwest hit hard by ice, snow

A pedestrian makes his way across a snow covered street, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2007, in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall/The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 4:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 4:56 p.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Snow and ice plastered a wide area of the Midwest on Saturday, disrupting campaigning by presidential hopefuls, making highways hazardous and closing Des Moines' airport.

The National Weather Service posted winter storm and ice warnings across parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, the eastern Dakotas, Illinois and northern Michigan, although some warnings were lifted by midday. Six to 16 inches of snow was forecast in parts of Minnesota.

Much of Iowa was hit by snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Officials decided to close Des Moines International Airport after a United Airlines plane slid off a taxiway as it was heading to a runway for a flight to Chicago's O'Hare, said airport spokesman Roy Criss. He said none of the 44 passengers was injured.

The airport reopened by mid-afternoon. "We've had some cancellations but quite a few flights are gearing up they're late but there going to be taking off," Criss said.

More than 150 flight cancellations were reported at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, said Gregg Cunningham, a spokesman for Chicago's Department of Aviation. "Low visibility right now is the leading factor in the delays we're seeing," he said.

The storm also complicated plans for some presidential hopefuls drumming up support for the Jan. 3 caucuses that kick off the nomination process.

Republican Mitt Romney canceled three campaign stops planned Saturday in southern Iowa, and former President Clinton canceled a rally for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, scheduled Saturday afternoon outside Des Moines.

Heavy ice accumulations on power lines blacked out more than 2,000 customers scattered around Iowa, said representatives of for Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy. In Illinois, about 7,100 Ameren customers reported power outages, utility spokesman Leigh Morris said.

Numerous accidents were reported on Iowa highways, said Transportation Department spokeswoman Dena Gray-Fisher.

Many travelers checked into motels to wait out the storm in the northern Iowa city of Clear Lake, but Lake Country Inn manager Linda Lorenz said she was surprised by the numbers of vehicles that stayed on the highways.

"They're still going," Lorenz said. "I don't know why they aren't home, I'm not leaving."

To the south in Osceola, icy conditions kept all but a few people off the roads, said Pam Sorensen, manager of a Kum & Go gas station and convenience store.

By early afternoon, Sorensen had gotten fewer than 50 customers. "I usually have that in half an hour, so it's really slow," she said.

Freezing rain coated Illinois highways with ice, causing spinouts and accidents, weather officials said. Ice was about a quarter-inch thick in parts of central Illinois, said weather service meteorologist Dan Kelly.

Many parts of Minnesota reported difficult driving conditions by early afternoon, the state Department of Transportation reported. Snow mixed with sleet along the Interstate 90 corridor across the southern edge of the state and visibility was down a quarter-mile in places.

Snow and blowing snow with wind of 20 to 25 mph reduced visibility in southeastern South Dakota and brought cancellations of regular weekend activities such as YMCA basketball, church practices, high school athletics and community events. One Sioux Falls television station had posted 43 event cancellations and postponements on its Web site by noon.

The weather also caused a four-hour interruption in the search for two missing Illinois women. More than 200 people scoured parts of Romeoville for Stacy Peterson, 23, who disappeared over a month ago from her Bolingbrook home, and 38-year-old Lisa Stebic, of Plainfield, who was reported missing in April.

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