A toddler naps amid his family’s bags and other travellers at Denver International Airport on Tuesday. Joe Mahoney / AFP
A storm packing heavy snow and high winds that wreaked havoc as it whipped through Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska marched into the upper Midwest on Wednesday as anxious Thanksgiving travellers buckled up and barreled headlong into a busy, if not perilous, holiday week.
About 1,100 people spent the night at the Denver airport, including many cadets from the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs who either missed flights or wanted to get to the airport before road conditions deteriorated, airport spokeswoman Alex Renteria said.
Airport workers handed out blankets, diapers, baby formula, toothbrushes and toothpaste to passengers who camped out on floors and in chairs.
Many government offices closed in the Denver area and Cheyenne, Wyoming, along with colleges and schools not already on holiday break.
The wintry storm that left at least one person dead was expected to push eastward into South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, while a "bomb cyclone” weather phenomenon was expected to simultaneously topple trees, knock out power and dump snow as it rolled into California and Oregon.
The one-two punch made for a double whammy of early wintry weather that threatened to scramble plans for millions of people nationwide during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
Minnesotans prepared on Wednesday for a winter-like blast that’s expected to deliver heavy snow and powerful winds. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus cancelled classes starting late Tuesday and was not expected to resume operations until Thursday.
National Weather Service meteorologist Brent Hewett in Chanhassen, Minnesota, said the storm could dump 15 centimetres of snow in central and southern Minnesota, while some areas could see 22.9 to 30.5 centimetres.
Western and northern Wisconsin could be buried beneath 20 to 30.5 centimetres of snow, with 30.5 to 38 centimetres of lake-effect snow near Lake Superior.
A raw, blustery day is forecast for Wednesday, with winds up to 56 kph.
Forecasters said another storm could arrive this weekend, just as people are returning from Thanksgiving.
On Tuesday, weather-related damage was widespread nationwide. Authorities on both sides of the California-Oregon border reported numerous crashes and closed roads.
The National Weather Service urged people to wait to travel for the holiday until the weather improved.
At Denver International Airport, about 25 centimetres of snow mixed with winds that limited visibility prompted the cancellation of about 30 per cent of the airport’s average daily 1,600 flights.
The storm dumped nearly a meter of snow in parts of northern Colorado and closed long stretches of highways there and in Wyoming.
One person was killed, and two others were injured when a tractor-trailer jackknifed and was hit by two other trucks on Interstate 70 near the Colorado ski town of Vail.
The system eventually moved east, allowing the Denver airport to begin returning to normal.
Southwest Airlines cancelled about 200 flights.
Spokesman Brad Hawkins said it would take "a couple of days" to get stranded passengers on other flights because there are few during the pre-Thanksgiving travel crush. That makes it hard for airlines to rebook passengers.In Nebraska, several school districts cancelled classes on Wednesday, and the southwestern city of Sidney had received about 20 centimetres of snow.
Blizzard and wintry weather warnings extended into the Great Lakes states with the storm bringing high winds and snow to Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and a chance of snow over the weekend for parts of New England, said Alex Lamers, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The storm was expected to dump snow on the airport in Minneapolis, where Delta Air Lines is the major carrier, but most was expected to fall overnight when few flights were scheduled.
Delta prepared by filling de-icing tanks, calling in extra flight dispatchers and operations employees, and having some of its 20 in-house meteorologists focus on the Minneapolis forecast.
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