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Ice storm snarls traffic throughout Iowa, Midwest

By Staff | Jan 22, 2010

Shawn Munyon, of Des Moines, scrapes ice off the windshield of his truck, Wednesday. A storm moving Wednesday across the nation's heartland brought freezing rain to Iowa, which turned into ice as soon as it hit the road, power lines and trees.

DES MOINES (AP) – A storm brought freezing rain and ice to the nation’s midsection Wednesday, causing widespread power outages and forcing school closures in Iowa and contributing to at least one traffic fatality in South Dakota.

Ice up to one-inch thick coated parts of western and northern Iowa, turning streets and sidewalks into near skating rinks.

Dave Nerad, a store manager at the Active Endeavors in Iowa City, said he had several customers waiting at the door when he opened at 10 a.m.

“They came in looking for Yak Trax, stabilizers, anything that’s going to keep them upright on the ice,” Nerad said, referring to the steel-bottomed shoe attachments.

Todd Heitkamp, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sioux Falls, S.D., said driving conditions were treacherous in northwest Iowa, northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota.

Christopher McGowan, in Sioux City, told Farm News Wednesday morning it’s the worst ice storm he’s witnessed in his 43 years. He said his vehicle’s windscreen had ice one-third of an inch thick that morning. “I’m afraid we’ll be losing some trees around here.”

Sioux Falls police Sgt. David Erickson said they were dealing with “crash after crash,” even though road crews were out sanding streets. South Dakota authorities were advising against driving along Interstates 29 and 90.

A 23-year-old man, Bradley Deutsch, of Luverne, S.D., was killed after his vehicle rolled in a ditch off Interstate 90 near Brandon, along the state’s border with Minnesota, the Minnehaha County sheriff’s office said.

Iowa’s two largest utilities said thousands of customers were without power Wednesday morning as temperatures hovered just below the freezing mark.

MidAmerican Energy had about 16,000 customers without power, with most in Des Moines, Fort Dodge and in western Iowa from Sioux City to Council Bluffs. Alliant Energy reported outages in northwest Iowa, central and southern Iowa.

In southwest Iowa, most of Atlantic, which has 7,200 residents, was without power. The main problem was downed power lines, said Cass County Deputy John Westering.

“We have 70-80 percent of the town without power. We’re on a generator here at the courthouse right now,” he said.

Westering said traveling wasn’t much of a problem in Cass County, but drivers had to proceed slowly – if they could even get into their ice-coated cars.

“You can’t hardly get your car doors open, I know that,” he said.

In Des Moines, the Polk County sheriff’s office said it was so icy that inmates at the county jail would not have visitors because of the “treacherous driving conditions.”

The National Weather Service said the freezing rain was to continue into early Thursday, and an ice storm warning remained in effect into Thursday morning.

Iowa had already endured three major snow storms this winter, and there was still more than 2 feet of snow on the ground in some areas.

“We’ve had our share of winter, that’s for sure. I think everybody is ready for spring time,” said meteorologist Kenny Podrazik of the weather service in Johnston.

Temperatures were expected to remain below freezing into today and to warm up over the weekend.

Temperatures on Saturday were forecast to be in the lower 40s – with more rain, which could potentially cause flooding as the snow melts.

Larry Kershner, Farm News nes editor, contributed to this report.

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