Midwest Hit by First Major Snowstorm of Season

A snow plow spreads salt and sand Wednesday Dec. 19, 2012 in Omaha, Neb. A storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains is heading east and is forecast to bring the first major winter storm of the season to the central plains and Midwest.(AP Photo/The World-Herald, Jimmie Burnett) MAGS OUT; ALL NEBRASKA LOCAL BROADCAST TV OUT

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By Aaron Hepker

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Midwest's first major snowstorm of the season was sweeping across several states early Thursday, shuttering schools, creating treacherous roadways and threatening to slow down one of the nation's busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend.

Forecasters warned that heavy snowfall coupled with strong winds would create blizzard conditions for morning commuters from Kansas to Wisconsin.

Nebraska's largest school district canceled classes because of heavy overnight snow, as did many districts across Iowa, where drivers were being told to stay off the roads starting Wednesday evening because of whiteout conditions.

But Iowa native Laurie Harry said the weather likely wouldn't stop her from starting up her car Thursday morning.

"If I need to get into work, I'll be here," said Harry, a manager at a Casey's General Store in the western Iowa town of Atlantic. "We've had snow before. Iowans know what to expect. We're used to it."

The heaviest snow is expected across a swath extending from northwest Missouri into Milwaukee, Chicago and Michigan, with predictions of as much as a foot of snow in some areas, according to the National Weather Service. Before the storm, several cities in the Midwest had broken records for the number of consecutive days without measurable snow.

Light snow, strong winds and low clouds could make visibility poor and cause delays at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the nation's second-busiest airport, according to the National Weather Service. The weather has already prompted Delta and United Airlines to allow many affected travelers to change schedules without incurring fees.

By Wednesday night, snow had blanketed parts of Iowa and Nebraska as the storm moved out of eastern Colorado and across parts of Kansas. Several states were reporting numerous traffic accidents, including one fatality in Nebraska.

"There are a few truckers stranded here. And we have some semis that have rolled over and we have some that have jackknifed," said Ashley Brozek, a clerk at the Eagle Travel Center in the western Kansas town of Tribune. "We also have a UPS driver that is stranded and a local family has let him in for the night."

In Madrid, about 30 miles north of Des Moines, auto repair shop owner Steve Simmons said he had a busy Wednesday morning with customers looking for snow tires ahead of the storm.

"Everybody seems to wait to the last minute for this kind of thing," he said. And he was also expecting a busy Thursday snowplowing several churches and private businesses.

"The bad weather usually benefits me greatly," he said.

Meteorologist Kris Sanders explained "it's a pretty strong system that is coming out of the Rockies," where the storm dumped a foot of snow — a gift for ski resorts in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah ahead of the busy holiday week — before moving east.

The moisture was being welcomed by farmers in the drought-parched region, but Sanders said the storm wouldn't make much of a dent. In Kansas, for example, some areas are more than 12 inches below normal precipitation for the year.

"It's not going to have a big effect, maybe only a half-inch of liquid precipitation. It's not helping us out much," the meteorologist said.

Sanders said another storm similar to the current one could bring additional snow on Christmas or the day after.

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