A major winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow on parts of the middle of the country while another system blanketed areas of the Southwest, disrupting travel for a second consecutive day Tuesday and shuttering many schools.
Several coronavirus testing sites closed Monday and Tuesday in Nebraska and Iowa, as both states saw 12 to 15 inches (30.5 to 38.1 centimeters) of snow in places. At least 4 inches (10 centimeters) of snow was expected through Tuesday across most of an area stretching from central Kansas northeast to Chicago and southern Michigan.
National Weather Service meteorologist Taylor Nicolaisen, who is based near Omaha, said up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) was reported in spots between York, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa. He said it’s uncommon for the region to get more than a foot of snow from a single storm, and it has been decades since some cities saw this much.
“A lot of people tend to misremember snow events — especially from when you were a kid. Everything felt like a foot of snow when you were a kid,” Nicolaisen said. “The snow drifts were literally higher than your head when you were a kid, but that’s because you were 2 1/2 feet tall.”
The storm made travel treacherous in places as wind-whipped snow piled up. Interstates were temporarily closed in western Nebraska and in Wisconsin near Milwaukee because of crashes, and scores of flights were canceled at airports across the region. Officials urged drivers to stay off the roads.
In Wisconsin, the weather service predicted up to 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) of snow could fall in the Milwaukee area, with the highest totals along Lake Michigan.
Wind gusts of 15 mph (24 kph) to 25 mph (40 kph) were reported across southern Wisconsin, creating drifting snow, reduced visibilities and complicating snow removal efforts, said Andy Boxell, a meteorologist with the weather service’s office in Sullivan, Wisconsin.
In the Chicago area, more than 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) had already fallen by Tuesday afternoon and forecasters predicted up to 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) or more would fall in some areas before the storm ended Tuesday evening.
The last comparable snowfall hit the area in November 2018, when 8.4 inches (21.3 centimeters) fell.
Many schools and businesses across the Midwest closed for a second day Tuesday as crews worked to dig out after the storm.
Omaha had all 115 of its own plows and 300 contractors out Tuesday working around the clock to clear the streets in Nebraska’s biggest city, but Assistant Public Works Director Todd Pfitzer cautioned that the effort will take some time to complete.
“We are asking for a little patience,” Pfitzer told the Omaha World-Herald.
In West Des Moines, Iowa, Chris Borsberry said he needed four-wheel drive to make it into the Fairfield Inn & Suites where he works, and it took him twice as long as normal. Once at the hotel, Borsberry said he had to shovel the sidewalk seven times because it kept getting covered until the snow finally stopped.
“I got excited about that because it meant I only had one more shovel pass to do,” said Borsberry, 45.
In the South, one person was dead and at least 30 others were injured after a tornado carved a 10-mile-long (16 kilometer) path of destruction north of Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday night, leaving the area with crumpled buildings and downed trees.
In the Southwest, more than a foot of snow fell in the mountains of Southern California, Nevada and Arizona. Icy conditions in mountains north of Los Angeles shut Interstate 5 in Tejon Pass and State Route 58 in Tehachapi Pass.
A storm buried northern Arizona in snow while sending flurries to the outskirts of Las Vegas and Phoenix. Preliminary snowfall reports from the latest storm included 14.2 inches (36 centimeters) at the Flagstaff airport and 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) at Payson between Sunday night and late Monday, the weather service said.
Most of Nevada was bracing for another series of powerful storms that generated a rare blizzard warning along with a forecast for as much as 6 feet (2 meters) of snow and wind gusting over 100 mph (160 kph) in the mountains above Lake Tahoe by early Friday. At lake level, the weather service expects 2 to 4 feet (61-122 centimeters) of snow with winds gusting to 50 mph (80 kph).
“Travel could be near impossible or even paralyzed with near-zero visibility through Friday morning,” the service said.
Another major storm was approaching the coast with the potential to bring 10 to 15 inches (25.40 to 38.1 centimeters) of rain to central California and dump several feet of snow across the Sierra Nevada mountains over the next three days. That could lead to flash floods and debris flows — which can carry massive boulders, trees and other objects — to areas north and south of San Francisco Bay. Evacuation orders were in effect for areas of fire-scarred Santa Cruz County and evacuation warnings were issued in San Mateo County.