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Big storm targets Midwest with snow, wind (2:41 p.m. 12/8/09)

Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A fierce wintry storm moved into the nation’s midsection Tuesday, covering roads with deep snow that was set to be followed by high winds, creating blizzard conditions.

The storm already blanketed much of the mountain west and drenched Southern California with rain. In the Phoenix area, fierce wind brought down power lines, left four hospitals temporarily without power and created wide outages. Freezing temperatures in Oregon were being blamed for one death.

Ice was the problem Tuesday morning in Oklahoma, where Interstate 40 was closed for about 25 miles between Clinton and Elk City, leaving truckers to wait out the storm. Mitch Dodson, a trucker hauling soda pop out of Durango, Colo., to Virginia, was waylaid at the Travel America plaza near the town of Sayre in western Oklahoma.

“It’s just a sheet of ice from Amarillo to here,” Dodson said. “It’s a disaster.”

Misty Willis, the assistant manager at the plaza, said I-40 had become a “skating rink.”

“I drove 20 miles an hour to get here,” she said. “I literally slid into my parking space.”

Travel was likely to get worse as the day wore on, and officials were warning residents in parts of the west and Midwest to stay close to home. Some schools closed before the worst of the storm was expected to hit so that school buses wouldn’t slip on slick roads.

“Anybody traveling tomorrow morning is really taking a huge risk I would say — a risk of being stranded and not having anybody be able to help you for 6 or 12 hours, probably,” Karl Jungbluth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Johnston, Iowa, said Tuesday.

Jungbluth said a “classic, big, deepening winter storm” was affecting more than a dozen states. He said it would take shape over Oklahoma and Kansas on Tuesday, then swing northeast through Missouri and the Upper Midwest before heading toward Lake Michigan. A foot or more of snow was expected in parts of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph could create snow drifts of 8 to 15 feet.

In Schaller, Iowa, Sparky’s One Stop gas station assistant manager Rose Jansen said they were getting ready for the snow.

“Snow and lots of it!” Jansen said. “We’ll be here, no matter what.”

In Boise, Idaho, subzero temperatures caused a scene out of the movie “A Christmas Story,” when a boy got his tongue stuck to a metal fence pole. Firefighters used a glass of warm water to free the boy, who they estimated at about 10 years old. Fire Capt. Bill Tinsley says the boy’s tongue was bleeding a little, but he was allowed to continue walking to school.

The weather brought a film-like feeling for Sharmishtha Jindal, an 18-year-old University of Iowa freshman from Bhopal, India.

“I saw this in the movies and on television, but this is the first experience,” Jindal said. “It’s very different in the real world.”

Eric Resch, in Whitefish Bay, Wis., is a cross-country skier who also finds time for snowboarding and snowshoeing. “I love the snow,” he said. “I grew up in Green Bay so it’s in my blood.”

The core of the heavy snow — a foot or more — will be in the Upper Midwest, from southeast Nebraska, through Iowa and into southern Wisconsin and Michigan. In some areas of the South, there was heavy rain.

In New Orleans, where more than 4 inches of rain was reported in spots, flooded traffic slowed morning commutes. One school in New Orleans closed because of a power outage, one of numerous scattered outages reported in the region. The storm also produced high winds and a possible tornado in Jefferson Parish near Lake Pontchartrain, the National Weather Service said. No injuries were reported.

The storm had hit much of the West on Monday, bringing subzero wind chills in Washington state and heavy snow that closed schools and government offices in Reno, Nev. Big rigs were left jackknifed across highways in several states.

And more snow was coming: The National Weather Service said the upper elevations of the Sierra mountains could get up to 3 feet of snow, with up to 4 feet forecast for the mountains of southern Utah.

In New Mexico, two people were killed in traffic accidents blamed on slick conditions. In Oregon, a 70-year-old man was pronounced dead in Medford. Officials said it appeared he had gone to sleep on the ground near railroad tracks with only a light blanket around himself, KDRV-TV reported.

Officials in northern Arizona closed parts of Interstate 17 and I-40, saying some stretches were snow-packed and visibility levels were near zero. Department of Transportation spokesman Rod Wigman advised people to stay home if possible as the brunt of the storm sweeps through.

“When the sun goes down, people need to go home,” Wigman said.

Associated Press Writers Justin Juozapavicius in Oklahoma City, Okla., Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Nigel Duara in Iowa City, Iowa, and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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