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How the Central Plains Prepares for a Christmas Blizzard with Widespread Travel Disruptions

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A major winter storm is expected to swath the Central Plains, just in time for Christmas, affecting approximately 1.1 million people in Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming with blizzard warnings.

The National Weather Service issued warnings early Monday, forecasting blizzard conditions and hazardous travel. The storm, set to unfold through Tuesday, brings a mix of heavy snow, freezing rain, and powerful winds to a vast stretch of the Central and Northern Plains, posing potential risks to travelers during the festive season.

CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford highlighted the likelihood of widespread travel disruptions across the region. With wind gusts reaching up to 75 mph in parts of the Central Plains, coupled with heavy snowfall, whiteout conditions could make roads treacherous.

In the Northern Plains, particularly western South Dakota, heavy snowfall is anticipated, with projections of an additional 8 to 12 inches by Tuesday. Meanwhile, the eastern parts of the Dakotas and far western Minnesota are under ice storm warnings until Tuesday evening. This region faces threats of power outages and tree damage due to significant icing.

Cities like Omaha, Nebraska, are gearing up for the storm’s impact. Street maintenance workers and snowplows took to the streets early to ensure preparedness. A blizzard warning covers much of Nebraska, with some areas expected to receive between 5 to 11 inches of snow and ice accumulations, along with gusts of up to 40 mph.

Omaha’s street maintenance staff is set to work through Christmas morning, emphasizing the need to be vigilant and proactive in dealing with the storm. The city urged residents to check road conditions before traveling, acknowledging the potential challenges posed by the inclement weather.

Blizzard warnings extended to other states, including South Dakota, where travel difficulties were expected due to heavy snowfall. Parts of southeast Wyoming, northwest Kansas, and east-central and northeast Colorado are also under blizzard warnings until Wednesday morning.

The Nebraska State Department of Transportation issued warnings about rapidly deteriorating driving conditions, especially in central and north-central Nebraska. The recommendation was to avoid travel if possible, but for those who must venture out, survival kits and staying in vehicles if stranded were strongly advised.

Blizzard conditions in Nebraska led to icy roads and low visibility, resulting in accidents and road closures. Eastbound I-80 was temporarily closed at York due to stuck tractor-trailers, causing disruptions, but the road has since reopened.

South Dakota experienced similar challenges, with the South Dakota Highway Patrol responding to multiple crashes in Watertown. Icy roads and strong winds were expected to worsen throughout the day, amplifying the dangers of driving in these conditions.

The storm is likely to impact air travel, with airports such as Eppley Airfield in Omaha and Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota advising travelers to stay informed about flight statuses, anticipating potential delays and cancellations.

As the storm progresses, the Weather Prediction Center has issued a marginal risk for excessive rainfall in the Northeast, including cities like Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia, as the system gradually moves into the region on Wednesday.

In conclusion, the Christmas Blizzard is set to leave its mark on the Central Plains, creating challenges for holiday travelers and prompting communities to take proactive measures to mitigate potential risks associated with this winter storm.

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