Winter storm walloping parts of Midwest on major travel day

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Winter storm hits central plains
Traffic moves west along Interstate 70 near Lawrence, Kan., during a winter storm on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.
Orlin Wagner | AP

Updated: 4:15 p.m. | Posted: 10:30 a.m.

A winter storm blanketed much of the central U.S. with snow on Sunday at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, bringing blizzard-like conditions that grounded hundreds of flights and forced the closure of major highways on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

"It's going to be messy," said Todd Kluber, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service who is based in suburban Chicago.

With much of the central plains and Great Lakes region under blizzard or winter storm warnings, about 600 flights headed to or from the U.S. had been canceled as of 2 p.m. Sunday, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Most were supposed to be routed through Chicago or Kansas City — areas forecast to be hit hard by the storm.

Strong winds and snow created blizzard conditions across much of Nebraska and parts of Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. The National Weather Service was warning those conditions would make travel difficult in places.

By midday, the blizzard warning was extended to parts of the eastern Illinois near Chicago, where snow is forecast to fall at a rate of about 2 inches per hour.

Other parts of central plains and Great Lakes region were under a winter storm warning, that could see a foot or more of snow dumped in some places by the end of the day.

The track of the storm will keep the heavy snow well south of Minnesota.

In eastern Nebraska, part of Interstate 80 between Lincoln and Omaha was closed Sunday morning because of multiple accidents after snow blanketed that area. That included semitrailer trucks jackknifed across the highway. It was re-opened by Sunday afternoon.

In Kansas, Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a state of emergency declaration. The action came as a large stretch of Interstate 70, spanning much of the state, was closed between Junction City and WaKeeney.

Separately, a portion of Interstate 29 was shut down in Missouri, near the Iowa border.

As much as a foot was expected in Chicago. Between 4 to 6 inches of snow was expected in the Kansas City area. Forecasters predict more than a foot of snow is likely in southeast Nebraska, northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa.

By Monday morning, the storm was expected to hit parts of northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

Kluber said the storm was expected to hit the Chicago region sometime Sunday evening. He said rain will give way to heavy snowfall and "near whiteout conditions" that will make for dangerous travel.

Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport encouraged travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours ahead of their flight, to allow time to pass through security.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported good driving conditions across most of the state as of Sunday afternoon.

AAA projected that 54.3 million Americans would travel at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving weekend — a 4.8 percent increase over 2017 and the most since 2005.

MPR News contributed to this report.