MILWAUKEE - Residents across the Midwest and the Plains who made it home for Christmas were digging out yesterday after a fierce snowstorm, while those who spent the night at airports and shelters tried to resume their journeys.
Meteorologists warned that roads across the region remained dangerous.
The National Weather Service said blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin through today. The storm had already dumped significant snow across the region, including a record 14 inches in Oklahoma City and 11 inches in Duluth, Minn., on Thursday.
Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 21 deaths this week as the storm lumbered across the country from the Southwest..
Paul Mews, who drove yesterday morning from Faribault, Minn., to a relative's home in Plum City, Wis., said that the first 15 minutes of the 80-mile trip were clear but that a sudden surge of heavy snowfall produced a stretch of near-whiteout conditions.
"It was snow-pocalypse. It was wicked," said Mews, 25. "We thought about turning around and going back."
He and his wife decided to continue when the surge passed minutes later, noting that plows were doing a good job of keeping roads clear. "Spending Christmas Day with family was more important than the weather," Mews said.
Others weren't as lucky.
Army Sgt. Mark Matthey was spending last night at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Sioux Falls, S.D., after I-90 closed. Matthey, 26, left Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday for his hometown of Spokane, Wash., in hopes of making it by late yesterday or early today.
Instead, he spent the afternoon drinking coffee, watching TV, and making friends at the truck stop. He planned to find a spot to sleep on the floor or in the cab of his truck.
Matthey said he and his fellow stranded travelers were in decent spirits.
"Everybody has the attitude that you have to play the cards you were dealt," he said. "No use in getting upset about something you can't control."
Interstates also were closed in North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Meteorologists warned that massive snow drifts and blustery winds could cause whiteouts across the northern Plains. Officials urged travelers to stay home and pack emergency kits if they had to set out.
In Texas, volunteer firefighters and sheriff's deputies rescued hundreds of people stranded along Interstate 44 and Texas State Highway 287 near Wichita Falls. The area recorded up to 13 inches of snow, said Doug Speheger of the National Weather Service.
Since Tuesday, icy roads have been blamed for accidents that killed at least seven people in Nebraska, five people in Oklahoma, four in Kansas, two in Minnesota, and one each in North Dakota, Missouri, and New Mexico.
Winds were gusting from 45 to 60 m.p.h. yesterday across the Dakotas and Nebraska. Crews worked to restore power to thousands of customers in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa.
The storm also grounded flights at South Dakota's biggest airports.
In Oklahoma City, about 200 people were stuck overnight at Will Rogers World Airport, which closed Thursday afternoon after several inches of snow clogged runways, said its director, Mark Kranenburg. It reopened yesterday morning, but only one of three runways was operating.
Most of the stranded passengers were gone by yesterday afternoon. While some were able to catch flights, many simply went home.