Blizzard Hits Southern Plains

DALLAS (AP) - A major spring blizzard plodding eastward over the
Southern Plains shut down major highways Friday and paralyzed the
region as residents braced for up to a foot of snow, freezing
45-mph winds and massive snowdrifts.

Schools and government offices were closed, and hundreds of
travelers were stranded by the storm, which left some areas under a
coat of ice. The snowfall was expected to be unprecedented for this
time of year in Oklahoma, and the National Guard was called out in
the Texas Panhandle, where snowdrifts as high as 11 feet and up to
a foot of snowfall were predicted before the storm moves on
Saturday.

"It's blowing furiously," said Jerry Billington of Faith City
Ministries in downtown Amarillo, which was under whiteout
conditions. The 200-bed shelter was one of several setting up extra
beds and encouraging homeless people to come in off the street.

There were several accidents in the area, including jackknifed
tractor-trailers, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Wayne
Williams said in Amarillo, which is about 365 miles northwest of
Dallas. Authorities shut down all major highways around Dalhart in
the northwest corner of the Panhandle.

At least two weather-related traffic deaths were reported, in
Kansas and Oklahoma.

Ice built up all over southeast Kansas, with a quarter-inch coat
reported in Arkansas City. Freezing rain pelted the Wichita area
and heavy snow and 40 mph winds created dangerous driving
conditions in the Dodge City area.

The weather service forecast as much as 16 inches of snow in
northwest Oklahoma, with about 5 inches predicted in Oklahoma City.
Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency Friday for much of
the state.

Winds were strongest near the Colorado-Kansas border, said Randy
Gray of the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colo. Sections of
three southeast Colorado highways totaling nearly 150 miles were
shut down Friday.

Rural electric providers reported about 5,000 homes and
businesses without power in Oklahoma, where wind gusts were as high as 50 mph. More than 2,000 Oklahoma Gas and Electric customers in the Norman area were without power Friday, and outages also were
reported in several Kansas towns.

Earlier in the week the storm dumped nearly a foot and a half of
snow in the Denver area, creating havoc at airports and on highways
that lingered Friday as a swath of far southeastern Colorado
remained under a blizzard warning. Many schools and offices
remained closed because of icy roads and unplowed streets.

Three of four roads into the southeast Colorado town of
Springfield were closed when blowing snow reduced visibility to
near zero.

"It was awful. Just blowing real bad," said Kelly Mason, a
worker at Love's Travel Stop in the town of about 1,400. "Not a
lot's moving around here."

As many as 400 travelers spent the night at Denver International
Airport after airlines canceled about 500 flights Thursday. Air
operations resumed Friday, with dominant DIA carriers United,
Southwest and Frontier airlines returning to regular schedules with
few cancellations.

Eastern Colorado ranchers checked on their herds, which were in
the midst of calving when the storm hit.

A series of heavy storms in December 2006 and January 2007
killed an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 head of cattle in southeastern
Colorado. Cattle that survived gave birth to stillborn calves
because of the stressful winter, compounding losses.

This week's storm will "have some impact, but it wasn't what we
call a cow-killer," said Mike Eisenbart, who has 140 head of
cattle on his ranch in Kit Carson County about 140 miles east of
Denver.

The American Red Cross said 285 people spent Thursday night in
shelters south of Pueblo because a 40-mile stretch of I-25 was
closed in southern Colorado. It has since reopened.

Gov. Bill Ritter declared a state of emergency Thursday and
activated the National Guard. Troops rescued three stranded
motorists and cleared a path through stalled vehicles for an
emergency blood delivery, Capt. Elena O'Bryan said.


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