OKLAHOMA CITY – A fierce Christmas storm dumped more snow and ice across the nation's midsection Friday after stranding travelers as highways and airports closed and leaving many to celebrate the holiday just where they were.
Meteorologists predicted the slow-moving storm would glaze highways in the East with ice through Christmas night and that gusty thunderstorms would hamper the South. An ice storm warning was issued for parts of West Virginia and the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina and Virginia, while a wind chill advisory cautioned of temperatures as low as 30 below zero in Montana.
The National Weather Service warned that blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin on Christmas Day and into the evening.
A sheriff's deputy in central Iowa's Guthrie County, where 6 inches of snow fell since Thursday night, said he saw only snowplows on his way to work Friday.
"It's going to be one of them days," Deputy Jesse Swenson said. "Everybody wanted a white Christmas — and they got it."
In Minnesota, Mike Ruhland, who was shoveling his driveway in Minneapolis on Friday morning, said he hadn't made much progress after two hours.
"I waited too long to start shoveling. For two days, it was the white powdery snow, and now it's the heavy, thick stuff," he said. "It's a pain in the butt, but at least I'm getting my exercise for the month."
The National Weather Service said the storm posed a threat to life and property. Officials warned travelers to stay home and pack emergency kits if they had to set out. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency.
Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 18 deaths this week as the storm moved east across the country from the Southwest. Driving became so treacherous that authorities closed interstates in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas to prevent further collisions.
Jonathan Cannon was spending Thursday night at a Baptist church in Goldsby, Okla., after being stuck for several hours on Interstate 35. He had left Sherman, Texas, a little after noon hoping to join his wife in Edmond, Okla. — a trip that usually takes about three hours.
Cannon said about 200 people — plus the dogs many travelers had with them in their cars — were in the church Thursday night, with more possibly on the way. He wasn't sure if he would be able to finish his journey on Friday.
"This is mine and my wife's first Christmas together, so she's not very excited," he said.
About 100 passengers and the same number of workers were stuck at Oklahoma's largest airport, which closed Thursday afternoon after several inches of snow clogged runways. At least 70 flights were canceled at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. Director Mark Kranenburg told The Oklahoman that the airport re-opened Friday morning, with one of three runways operational, though many flights remained delayed or canceled.
Robert Smith of Denver was forced to cancel plans to fly home on Christmas Eve after visiting family members and friends in Oklahoma City. Smith said he was accustomed to snowstorms — and that none had ever hampered his travel plans.
"We are going to wait it out," he said. "We went to the grocery store to get stuff. We've got the generators ready just in case we need to use them."
Other stranded motorists took shelter at a high school gymnasium. Eric Adams, a U.S. Mail contractor from Memphis, Tenn., sought shelter at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Sayre in far western Oklahoma after strong winds caused his tractor-trailer to sway.
Crews were working to restore power to thousands of customers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
Oklahoma City had received 14 inches of snow by Thursday night, breaking a record set back in 1914 of 2.5 inches. Winds gusted to 50 mph in central Kansas, while winds gusting at up to 65 mph in Texas drifted the snow as deep as 5 feet in some areas.
"The wind is killer, especially when you're empty," trucker Jim Reed said during a stop in Omaha, Neb. "Anything that's boxed, like a refrigerator trailer like I have, becomes like a giant sail in the wind."
The Star-Telegram said the Dallas-Fort Worth area was experiencing its first White Christmas in more than 80 years. While the area had a sprinkling of holiday snow in 2004 and 1997, the last time it experienced "a true, New England-style dose of snow on Christmas Day was Dec. 25, 1926," the newspaper reported.
Some churches canceled Christmas Eve services, while others saw sharply lower attendance.
"I don't think God wants anyone to get killed or break a hip or break a knee or something," said the Rev. Joseph Mirowski of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration in Mason City, Iowa.
Associated Press writers Rochelle Hines in Oklahoma City, Patrick Condon in Minneapolis, John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., Jean Ortiz and Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., and Melanie Welte and Michael J. Crumb in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
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