- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

RENO, Nev. | Yet another snowstorm closed highways in parts of the West on Friday, the latest in a tiring week of bad weather, and a dangerous sheet of ice in parts of the Midwest contributed to a looming flood problem.

Winter storm warnings were in effect Friday for parts of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the western Dakotas, and a blizzard warning covered the mountains of southwest Colorado.

“It’s going to be a heck of a storm,” said Chris Cuoco, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo. “We’re expecting significant snowfall in all the mountains of Colorado. Even the valleys are going to see 4-plus inches of snow.”

The forecast called for up to 20 inches of snow in parts of the Rockies, along with wind gusts of up to 80 mph.

The Utah Avalanche Center on Friday renewed its warning against travel in mountain backcountry, saying up to 3 feet of new snow in places, plus strong wind, had overloaded layers of very weak snow and raised the threat of avalanches.

A Utah avalanche killed two people earlier in the week, and a snow slide in California’s Sierra Nevada killed one man Thursday. Wisconsin officials Thursday classified a vehicle crash death Tuesday as weather related.

In the Midwest, freezing rain glazed streets and highways in the Chicago area. The Eisenhower Expressway - Interstate 290 - was closed for a time because of the ice, and the village of Lemont blocked off all its major intersections.

The full length of the Indiana Toll Road, more than 150 miles, was shut down for about two hours Friday morning because it was “an entire sheet of ice” with numerous accidents, said state Trooper William Jones. Indiana also closed a 10-mile section of Interstate 69 just north of Fort Wayne.

Seven Indiana traffic deaths were blamed on the ice Friday, adding to four weather-related deaths in that state earlier in the week. In Indianapolis, a fire engine slid head-on into a tree, sending four firefighters to a hospital with minor injuries.

Temperatures could reach the 50s and even 60s in the region Saturday, after subzero readings earlier in the week, and a possibility of 2 inches of rain was forecast in Indiana.

The National Weather Service issued flood watches for much of Illinois, saying “the potential exists for very serious and potentially life-threatening flooding.”

Utah officials shut down Interstate 84 at the Utah-Idaho state line Friday because of the weather, and some state roads were open only to vehicles with tire chains or four-wheel-drive. Colorado closed at least two mountain pass highways.

In eastern Washington, Spokane reached a snowfall total for the month of 46.2 inches, a record for December, said Laurie Nisbet of the weather service.

Slippery roads and cold have been blamed for 11 deaths this week in Indiana; eight in Wisconsin; five in Ohio; four each in Kentucky and Missouri; two in Kansas; three in Michigan; and one apiece in Illinois, Oklahoma, Iowa, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

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