Blizzard exits through Midwest after deadly storm leads to dangerously icy travel

Snowy and icy roads have prompted highway closures in at least five states this week as the powerful storm produced near-zero visibilities and coated some parts of the central U.S. in an inch of ice.

Travel conditions in the northern Plains will drastically improve Wednesday after a deadly storm that caused blizzard conditions and freezing rain, resulting in disruptions along major interstates in the central U.S. Meanwhile, parts of the Midwest will see the first snow of the season as the storm moves east.

The storm claimed a life in Kansas when an elderly woman died in a crash along a snowy state highway on Christmas evening.

The driver of a pickup truck heading west on Kansas Highway 156 lost control on the icy road and slid into oncoming traffic, according to the Kansas Highway Patorl. The vehicle crashed head-on into an eastbound SUV near Larned. An 86-year-old woman riding in the SUV was pronounced dead at the scene. Three others were hospitalized. 


Ice in Merrick County, Nebraska, caused another driver to lose control and the car to roll over several times, officials said. A child was ejected from the car and was rushed to a trauma center. Five others in the car were rushed to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the sheriff.

Snow and high winds forced the Nebraska DOT to close Interstate 80 and Highway 30 from the Wyoming line to Lexington, Nebraska. The state saw 28 crashes and almost 150 weather-related incidents on Christmas alone. I-80 was fully opened late Wednesday morning, but Highway 30 remained closed.

"I was still getting some crashes out in western Nebraska. That's the reason we closed down the interstate," Nebraska State Patrol Lieutenant Kyle Diefenbaugh told FOX Weather on Tuesday. "Mostly due to blowing snow. Wind gusts up to about 50 miles an hour are blowing across the road and making icy patches. And some of our travelers just are slowing down and causing wrecks. So we had to shut down the interstate and try to get those cleaned up." 

Blizzard conditions also led to several other crashes and, at times, additional closed roads and interstates in Kansas, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota, thanks to blinding snow and high winds.

In addition to Interstate 80's closure, state transportation officials in Colorado and Kansas temporarily closed Interstate 70 from Goodland, Kansas, west to just east of Denver, Colorado, on Tuesday morning due to safety concerns. The interstate has since reopened. Parts of Interstate 90 through South Dakota also had temporary closures during the storm.

So far, snow totals in Nebraska have topped 10 inches in a handful of cities. With wind gusts to 60 mph, as reported in Sidney, drivers faced white-out conditions. The storm's top wind gust came in Rapid City, South Dakota, at 73 mph, just shy of hurricane-force. 

Roads covered in inch of ice in some areas

In North Dakota, it wasn't just snow and wind, but freezing rain that forced the North Dakota Highway Patrol to close Interstate 29 from Grand Forks northward to the Canadian border Tuesday, with many area roads completely ice-covered. On Wednesday, I-29 reopened from Fargo to the Canadian border, but a travel alert remained in effect for the Grand Forks and Fargo areas.

Freezing rain was reported in Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck. The worst of the freezing rain was in southeastern North Dakota, where a few towns west of Fargo along the Interstate 94 corridor saw up to an inch of ice accretion over the past two days. 

Trees and power lines toppled in Chaffee, and cars, including a sheriff's deputy, were reported spun out into ditches in the town of Ashley. 

The freezing rain threat has since abated.

First flakes of season fly across heartland

While the blizzard winds down, the storm system will not, according to the FOX Forecast Center said. 

The system's core will shift east, moving across the heartland through Friday. This could lead to locations such as St. Louis to see their first snow of the season. 

Heading into Friday and through the weekend, just enough cold air could reach Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee to cause flakes to fly. While no travel impacts are expected, it will be notable as these locations typically see very little snow the entire winter.


Snowfall forecast through Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023.
(FOX Weather)