Major cross-country storm leaves motorists stranded for more than 16 hours
Major highways were shut down as snow spread from the Rockies to the Midwest with accumulations topping 4 feet in some locations. Farther south, severe thunderstorms and a tornado created significant damage across the southern U.S.
Crashes involving more than 20 vehicles closed both directions of Interstate 70 in Colorado on Jan. 18, leaving at least 50 vehicles stranded temporarily.
A large storm brought a variety of weather hazards to the nation's midsection this week, putting more than a million Americans at risk for severe weather and burying several towns under feet of snow. As the storm tracked eastward, residents from the Rockies to the Midwest started shoveling their way out of the snow, and communities across the southern United States began cleaning up the mess left behind.
The storm dumped snow across Colorado on Wednesday, wreaking havoc on Interstate 70 and Interstate 76. Multiple crashes involving more than 20 vehicles led to a massive pileup near Strasburg, Colorado, which is just east of Denver.
"Semis came through here, obviously a little bit faster than they should. Lost control and started just a chain reaction of semi after semi colliding, jackknifing," Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Cpl. Ian Alvarado told CBS News. "Nobody's really seriously injured which is actually a miracle."
Two truck drivers were taken to the hospital for minor injuries.
Following the major accident, the Colorado Department of Transportation shut down a more-than-150-mile stretch of I-70 from Denver to the Kansas state line.
CSP Master Trooper Cutler told Denver ABC7 that a hazmat team was on the scene trying to contain the fuel spills. Cutler also noted that 50-60 other semis were parked along the interstate, waiting for crews to clear a path for them.
As efforts to clear the crash continued into Thursday morning, parts of the major highway have been closed for more than 16 hours. According to an update from the CSP, the westbound lanes of I-70 were in the process of opening as of 7:40 a.m. MST. The eastbound lanes near Airpark Road were reopened later on Thursday, though a section between Mile Point 312 and 313 remained closed.
Perilous conditions resulted in a large section of I-76 being closed on Wednesday. The storm-related closure left a long line of stranded semi-trucks, as road crews continued to work to clear the highway. The closure on I-76 was in both directions, going from Sterling in the northeastern corner of the state to the Nebraska state line, a stretch of about 70 miles.
Traffic is delayed near Silverthorne and Dillon due to an accident on eastbound I-70 during a winter storm in Summit County, Colorado on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
In the neighboring state of Nebraska, travel-snarling snow led to multiple accidents across the state on Wednesday.
"Troopers have responded to about 30 crashes and over 230 motorist assists today," Nebraska State Patrol wrote on Twitter.
Numerous roads were closed across Nebraska on Wednesday as snow blanketed the roadways.
"Right now, the interstates are kind of hit or miss. We've got the blowing wind out west that makes it really hard to see, and then we've got the rain and sleet and the warmer pavement temperatures out east that are making it slushy and turning into ice later tonight," Director of Communications for the Nebraska Department of Transportation Shannon Ankeny told AccuWeather Senior On-Air Meteorologist Geoffery Cornish on Wednesday.
One motorist thought of a clever way to get to work after his car got stuck in a snow pile in Alliance, Nebraska, a town located in the state's panhandle. Mike O'Dell, the chief financial officer for Box Butte General Hospital (BBGH), bundled up, jumped on his mountain bike and started peddling to work.
O'Dell was biking north along Box Butte Ave. in Alliance when a person driving spotted him and started to record a video. The person recording the video asked if he wanted to race. O'Dell offered a fist pump to the person in the car and continued to peddle. BBGH said in a Twitter post that "his devotion" to the hospital gave him the motivation to grab his bike and head to work that way.
Across the border, in Wyoming, motorists were advised to avoid unnecessary travel on roads due to slippery conditions.
Snowfall totals topped 4 feet across the Rockies. The top snowfall report came from Wolf Creek Ski resort in Colorado, where 52 inches of snow was recorded during the week. Wolf Creek Ski resort is located 10,300 feet above sea level in southwestern Colorado. Crested Butte, Colorado, which is located just north of Wolf Creek Ski resort, picked up 48 inches of snow.
In Nebraska, the top snowfall report in the state came from Merna in Kilfoil Township, which is located west of Omaha at an elevation of 2,644 feet. The town measured 23.7 inches of snow. In comparison, Portland, Maine, has received only 9.6 inches of snow during the entire winter season, from Oct. 1, 2022, through the middle of January. The accumulation in Kilfoil Township is more than double what Portland has received this year.
As the snow continued to track east, heavy snow was reported falling across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan Wednesday night. Around daybreak on Thursday, the heavy snow was accompanied by a flash of lightning. The phenomenon is called thundersnow and only happens during intense bouts of snow, like what was reported across the Upper Midwest Thursday morning. The thundersnow was observed by the GOES-EAST weather satellite, which is outfitted with an instrument that detects lightning.
On the warmer side of the storm, strong to severe thunderstorms dominated the weather from Texas to Ohio on Wednesday and Thursday.
As the storms raced across Arkansas on Wednesday, an EF1 tornado created significant damage in Waldo, Arkansas, a town located roughly 112 miles southwest of Little Rock. Several trees were uprooted, utility poles were snapped and multiple buildings were damaged by the twister. No injuries or fatalities have been reported as of Wednesday afternoon.
AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell said that driving conditions were "definitely tough" as storms brought heavy rain, gusty winds and lightning to the southern U.S.
Rainfall reports surpassed 3 inches in the Mississippi Valley on Wednesday. In Saint Francis, Arkansas, a town located in the far northeastern corner of the state, 3.10 inches of rain was measured over the past 36 hours. In Sikeston, Missouri, a town in the southeastern corner of the state, 2.47 inches of rain was recorded. In Illinois and Indiana, rainfall totals were just under 2.50 inches.
Ohio, which is more used to cold and snow this time of year, was under alert for a moderate risk of severe weather on Thursday as the storms tracked unusually far to the north for the middle of the winter, AccuWeather meteorologists said.
A severe thunderstorm watch was issued for eastern Indiana, a section of northern Kentucky and a large chunk of Ohio for Thursday evening, covering roughly 7.6 million people, according to the National Weather Service.
The main threat of the evening was damaging wind gusts, many of which tore across northern Ohio. Multiple reports noted downed trees and power lines, and power outages across the state soared to nearly 40,000 by Thursday evening before crews were able to start repairs.
Unlike Wednesday, no there were no tornadoes reported across the portion of the system that delivered severe weather.
Officially, there have been nine tornadoes in January in Ohio since 1950. Most recently, two EF0 tornadoes touched down just north of Dayton in January 2020. No twisters were recorded in 2021 and 2022. Prior to 1950, there were six tornadoes recorded in January in Ohio. An F2 tornado carved a 40-mile track northeast of Cincinnati in 1948 and in 1928, an F3 tornado touched down near Cincinnati.
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