Elementary school students, some escorted by parents, cross a snowy street en route to school as a blizzard dropped snow over Boulder, Colo., Wednesday Dec. 19, 2012. A storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains is heading east and is forecast to bring the first major winter storm of the season to the central plains and Midwest. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:52PM
A storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains could cause headaches for travelers as it tracks into the Midwest and Great Lakes region.
Drivers in Iowa and Nebraska were warned to be careful or stop driving altogether starting Wednesday evening as the first major winter storm of the season heads into the central Plains from the Rockies. Strong winds were expected to create blizzard conditions.
Light snow is also expected at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Thursday and strong winds could make visibility poor. That combined with low clouds, could cause delays at the nation’s second-busiest airport, National Weather Service forecaster Jamie Enderlen said.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Northwest Indiana from 4 p.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. Friday.
Conditions were expected to include rain quickly turing to snow Thursday evening with strong winds and accumulations of 2 to 5 inches — with locally higher amounts expected by midday Friday.
Iowa officials advised drivers to avoid most roads from Wednesday night through noon Thursday, but native Laurie Harry, a manager at a Casey’s General Store, expects to drive to work Thursday.
“If I need to get into work, I’ll be here,” she said. “We’ve had snow before. Iowans know what to expect. We’re used to it.”
The snow had moved out of Denver by midday Wednesday but much of the eastern half of Colorado remained under a blizzard warning. Wind gusts were blowing snow around, lowering visibility, but interstates there remained open.
Denver’s airport, the nation’s fifth-busiest, reported delays averaging 30 minutes because of snow and ice Wednesday.
The snow is a gift for ski resorts in Colorado, Utah and Arizona right before the busy holiday week. The snow might also tempt backcountry skiers but the fresh snow prompted some avalanche warnings in Colorado and Utah.
The moisture is also a relief after an extended wildfire season in Colorado. Drought conditions persist especially in the mainly agricultural eastern half of the state.
Farmer Fred Midcap welcomed the snow even though 25 mph winds were blowing some of it away from his land near Hudson in northeastern Colorado.
“The snowflakes are mostly going sideways,” he said.
Midcap doesn’t plow his land to help improve the soil and said the stubble leftover from this year’s weak millet crop will help hold some of the snow in place, hopefully setting up for a better growing season next year. If the snow keeps coming, it will also provide some welcome insulation to his winter wheat crop before the coldest weather of the season.
In Arizona, two recent storms had combined to blanket the mountains north of Flagstaff with 2 feet of snow, and about 20 inches in Flagstaff and along the Mogollon Rim. The snowfall put Flagstaff above its nearly 17-inch normal for December with the snowiest month yet to come in January.
The storm is also expected to hit Wisconsin and Michigan, where up to a foot of snow was forecast in the north by Friday.
Associated Press writers Felicia Fonseca, in Flagstaff, Ariz., Brady McCombs, in Salt Lake City, David Runk, in Detroit, Bob Christie, in Phoenix, and Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa, also contributed to this report.