The first snowstorm of the season caused schools in Estherville and surrounding area to close on Thursday. However compared other areas of the state, Northwest Iowa avoided the brunt of the storm.
While 4 to 5 inches of snow dropped on the area earlier this week, Emmet County Emergency Management Director Terry Reekers said the area officially received 3 inches of snow overnight. However high winds reduced visibility and cold temperatures made roads snow-packed and slippery.
"Schools erred on the side of caution and I support that," Reekers said. "We got by a lot better than other parts of the state. The light snowfall made all the difference."
Is that a magic hat for Frosty?
Reekers said the further west one traveled from Emmet County, the better the roads. But heading southeast, conditions steadily got worse.
"Southeast of Des Moines had the heaviest totals and the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area also was hit hard," said Reekers.
For Estherville street crews, it was another typical winter schedule.
"The street department runs like a well-oiled machine," said Estherville City Administrator Penny Clayton late Thursday afternoon. "They'll be clearing out downtown overnight and it should be snow free by morning."
Snow in Midwest leads to
fatal 25-vehicle pileup
Elsewhere, the Associated Press reported 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 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. At O'Hare, many people 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.
Thomas Shubert, a clerk at a store in Gretna near Omaha, Neb., said his brother drove him to work in his truck, but some of his neighbors weren't so fortunate.
"I saw some people in my neighborhood trying to get out. They made it a few feet, and that was about it," Shubert said.
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 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.
In Chicago, commuters began Thursday with heavy fog and cold, driving rain. By early evening, high winds and sleet that was expected to turn to snow were making visibility difficult on roadways.
Airlines were waiving fees for customers impacted by the storm who wanted to change their flights. They were monitoring the storm throughout the night to determine if more cancellations would be necessary on Friday.0