Winter Weather Wracks Nation's Midsection

The nation’s midsection is suffering through another vicious bout of subzero wind chills, and snowfall.

In parts of the northern Plains, blowing snow cut visibility to near zero and police urged travelers to stay off the roads.

Highways had been shut down overnight in parts of Wyoming, cutting off access to one town, and wind gusting to 41 mph produced wind chills as low 47 degrees below zero at Fergus Falls, Minn.

“If anybody gets out on the roads, you’re nuts,” said South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper John Norberg in Sioux Falls.

The western part of Minnesota is looking at temperatures that are running with a wind chill of about 54 below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and wind gusts as strong as 50 to 60 mph, according to Kevin Leuer, director of Minnesota’s Office of Emergency Management in Minneapolis.

“[With] the wind gusts that we have with the new fallen snow, you basically have blizzard conditions,” he said. “It makes it really challenging for the responders.”

“We’re pretty accustomed to this stuff,” said Steve Johnson, a spokesman with the Minnesota State Police in Minneapolis. “The last two or three years have been very mild, and our snowfall has been down, so even Minnesotans are beginning to re-experience what winter is truly like.”

Kindly Strangers

In northwest Louisiana, 30,000 customers were still without electricity on Saturday, three days after the region was hit by an ice storm, and more than 50,000 others remained in the dark in Texas, said the utility AEP-Swepco.

Saturday’s roughest weather stretched from the northern Rockies to the Mississippi Valley, with wind driving snow across the northern Plains at more than 50 mph in places.

Because of poor visibility, Wyoming authorities closed a number of highways Friday night, including stretches of Interstates 25 and 80.

All roads were closed late Friday in and out of Lusk, a ranching community of 1,500 in east-central Wyoming, stranding people who were in town for a basketball game. The town’s six motels filled up before Judy Ludemann could get a room.

“The nicest lady came over at the game and asked us if we had a place to stay and she took seven of us over to her house, and she didn’t know any of us,” said Ludemann, who had traveled 110 miles from Upton to watch her grandson and granddaughter play.

Widespread Freezing

In Iowa, authorities urged people to stay home statewide. A fatal wreck east of Des Moines closed Interstate 80 in both directions Saturday, the State Patrol said, poor visibility and a 40-vehicle pileup closed an 80-mile stretch of I-35 in northern Iowa.

In South Dakota, several stretches of highway and 150 miles of Interstate 90 were closed. Gov. Bill Janklow warned that any motorist who became stranded along a closed stretch of roadway would be arrested.

“I don’t want to, but we have no choice,” Janklow said. “It’s very dangerous out there.”

No stranger to snow and cold, folks in the high country of Colorado werr facing winds of 25 miles per hour. Wind gusts could go as high as 50 miles per hour.

By Saturday, parts of Colorado had already been blanketed by 10 inches. That storm spawned more than 200 avalanches, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

One avalanche trapped a car on Interstate 70 near the Eisenhower Tunnel, where wind gusts topped 90 mph, said Colorado Transportation Department spokeswoman Claudia Lamb. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Travel Troubles

Rotten weather over the past week has grounded hundreds of airline flights, snarled highway traffic, closed schools and brought down power lines from Texas to the Great Lakes and from the Northwest to New England.

Northwest Airlines canceled all flights at Sioux Falls, S.D., Saturday. United and American had canceled hundreds of flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International in anticipation of freezing rain, snow and gusting wind, but by afternoon, meteorologists said the worst weather was missing the area.

ABCNEWS’ Liz Cho, ABCNEWS Radio, ABC Affiliate WABC in New York, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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