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News from around Wisconsin (8:09 p.m. 12/9/09)

Storm dumps snow on Midwest, bitter cold to follow

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A gigantic storm dumped more than a foot of snow across much of the Midwest and New England as it marched eastward Wednesday, creating blizzard conditions, burying cars under huge drifts and providing ammunition for a massive campus snowball fight in Wisconsin.

Even more snow fell in some areas, with 16 inches reported in Des Moines and nearly 19 inches just south of Madison, Wis. Gusts of up to 50 mph created snow drifts between 8 and 15 feet tall and even knocked down a two-story Christmas tree in downtown Champaign, Ill.

The storm was blamed for at least 17 deaths, most in traffic accidents. Hundreds of schools canceled classes, power was knocked out to thousands of people from Missouri to New York and hundreds of flights were canceled.

In the Twin Cities, where about 6 inches of snow fell and the wind chill dipped to minus 9 degrees, Kent Barnard eased a massive orange snowplow into traffic in the suburb of Arden Hills on Wednesday morning. He dropped the right wing of the plow down onto the shoulder, making a grinding sound as the wing sent out a spray of snow.

“You gotta watch it because some people try to sneak up around you,” Barnard said. “They’ll see that big orange flashing truck coming and go, ‘I don’t want to get caught behind that thing.'”

The storm felt like a rude surprise after an unseasonably warm and dry November in parts of the region. The massive system is the first major blast of wintry weather for many parts of the Midwest.

“I’ve been dreading this day,” said Kim Brust, shoveling the sidewalk in front of his Minneapolis home before sunrise Wednesday. “I was starting to enjoy the global warming.”

Wisconsin students hold massive snowball fight

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Some fortified themselves by wearing goggles and using dining hall trays as shields.

Others attempted to intimidate by waving skull and crossbones flags.

Colin Griffin went shirtless.

No matter the approach, thousands of University of Wisconsin-Madison students took advantage of an unplanned day off and hurled snowballs at one another Wednesday in a massive melee. Classes had been canceled due to more than a foot of snow and blizzard-like conditions that brought sub-freezing temperatures and winds of more than 20 miles per hour.

Students organized based on where they live on campus and lined up on opposite sides of Bascom Hill, a steep incline that leads to the administration building in the heart of campus.

“It’s like a mixture of football, boxing and dodgeball,” said Elliot Lynde, 22, a senior from Verona, Wis., shortly after mounting an offensive into the opposition’s line of attack.

The idea was hatched by three freshmen in advance of the storm that rolled into Madison and much of Wisconsin on Tuesday night. Word spread over Facebook and just before the fight began more than 5,200 guests had signed on to take part.

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