Central U.S. walloped by blizzard conditions, closing highways, schools and government offices

MADISON, Wis. — A sprawling storm that pelted much of the nation’s midsection with more than a half a foot of snow and gusty winds created whiteout conditions that closed parts of two interstate highways and prompted officials to close schools and government offices in several states today.

Up to 12 inches of snow could blanket a broad area stretching from southeastern Colorado all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, including western Kansas, eastern Nebraska, large parts of Iowa, northern Missouri and northwestern Illinois, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in College Park, Md.

Nearly 8 inches of snow fell in the northern city of Athol, Kan., on Monday. The weather service office in Lincoln, Neb., predicted an additional 3-5 inches was possible overnight, with winds possibly gusting as high as 40 mph.

Whiteout conditions in central Nebraska closed a long stretch of Interstate 80, while Kansas closed Interstate 70 from the central city of Russell all the way west to the Colorado border due to dangerous travel conditions. Several vehicles slid off I-70 in the northeastern part of the state, authorities said.

In Nebraska, federal courts in Omaha and Lincoln closed Monday, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased the water flow at a Missouri River dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border near Yankton to reduce the chance of ice jams forming. Schools in Cedar Rapids in eastern Iowa were among those also closing.

The weather has already affected campaigning for Iowa’s Jan. 15 precinct caucuses, where the snow is expected to be followed by frigid temperatures that could drift below zero degrees.

It forced former President Donald Trump’s campaign to cancel multiple appearances by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders and her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had been scheduled to court Iowa voters on Trump’s behalf Monday.

Parts of northern Missouri braced for up to a foot of snow as the system moved east. Officials in Kansas City, Mo., said City Hall would be closed today and municipal courts would operate remotely.

Madison, Wis., was under a winter storm warning until early Wednesday, with as much as 9 inches of snow and 40 mph winds on tap. City officials canceled garbage collection to prevent residents from putting trash cans along curbs and making it difficult for snowplows to navigate.

Northwestern Illinois was also under a winter storm warning with forecasts calling for 7 to 12 inches of snow by early Wednesday. The Chicago area as well as Gary, Ind., were under winter storm advisories, with forecasts calling for up to 6 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 30 mph. Snowfall rates could exceed an inch per hour today, the weather service said.

The Illinois Tollway, a state agency that maintains nearly 300 miles of toll roads across 12 northern Illinois counties, urged drives to take a “go it slow” attitude.

Disruptions extended as far south as the Oklahoma panhandle, where Cimmaron County emergency managers asked citizens to stay home. More than a dozen motorists were stranded there Monday afternoon, with whipping winds and blizzard conditions leading to near-zero visibility, said Lea Lavielle, the county’s emergency management director.

“At this point in time, we are advising individuals to shelter in place the best they can,” Lavielle said.

Another storm was on the way that will affect the Pacific Northwest into the northern Rockies, Oravec said. Blizzard warnings were out for much of the Cascade and Olympic ranges in Washington and Oregon.