DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The first widespread snowstorm of the season plodded across the Midwest on Thursday, as whiteout conditions sent drivers sliding over slick roads and some travelers were forced to scramble for alternate ways to get to their holiday destinations.
The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and more than 19 inches in Wisconsin's state capital, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.
The storm led airlines to cancel about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday — relatively few compared to past big storms, though the number was climbing.
Most of the canceled flights were at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway international airports. Aviation officials said Thursday night more than 350 flights had been canceled at O'Hare and more than 150 at Midway. Many people at O'Hare were taking the cancellations in stride and the normally busy airport was much quieter than normal Thursday evening.
Aprielle Kugler said she was considering taking a bus to Des Moines on Friday morning to visit her boyfriend after she had two flights canceled out of O'Hare. Sitting on top of her luggage, the 18-year-old from Wisconsin said her mom shoveled more than a foot of snow out of the family's driveway that morning to drive her to Chicago for her flight.
"It's so ridiculous, it's funny now," Kugler said.
The storm made travel difficult from Kansas to Wisconsin, forcing road closures, including a 120-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames, Iowa through Albert Lea, Minn. Iowa and Wisconsin activated National Guard troops to help rescue stranded drivers.
In Iowa, two people were killed and seven injured in a 25-vehicle pileup. Drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn't see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway.
"It's time to listen to warnings and get off the road," said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.
Truck driver Roy Savage, 42, of Missoula, Mont., left the Twin Cities area of Minnesota late Thursday morning and headed south on Interstate 35. He said roads were clean and dry with a little wind, but as he got closer to the Iowa border winds picked up and road conditions went from dry to snow-packed. He decided to pull over at a truck stop.
Savage said driving in the snow is "no big deal. But when it gets to this point where the winds are this strong and conditions are not safe, it's definitely best to pull over and wait it out."
Along with Thursday's fatal accident in Iowa, the storm was blamed for traffic deaths in Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin. In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night.
On the southern edge of the storm system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs in Alabama.
The heavy, wet snow made some unplowed streets in Des Moines nearly impossible to navigate in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even streets that had been plowed were snow-packed and slippery.