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Sloppy commute as Midwest gets first big snowstorm

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 13, 2012 at 9:33 a.m.

— It’s finally looking like winter in the Midwest as the season’s first big snowstorm crawls across the region, leaving skiers and snow-reliant businesses giddy but greeting Friday commuters with a sloppy, slippery drive.

After starting as one of the warmest and brownest winters in recent history, parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri were blanketed in white before the storm moved across Illinois and points east. Snowplow drivers were out in force overnight in Chicago, as six to eight inches of snow and plummeting temperatures moved in.

Nine inches of snow fell in northern Indiana before skies cleared early Friday. Forecasters said cold winds still could whip up lingering lake effect snow showers and push snowfall on Lake Michigan’s southern shore above a foot, while Michigan’s Upper Peninsula braced for similar totals before the storm continued its eastward roll through Ohio and into New England.

In a typical year, such a storm would hardly register in the Upper Midwest. But the atmospheric patterns, including the Pacific pattern known as La Nina, that have conspired to make this an unusually icy winter in Alaska have kept it abnormally warm in parts of the lower 48 states accustomed to more snow.

The storm was an annoyance for most commuters, and authorities said it caused hundreds of traffic accidents and at least three road deaths — two in Iowa and one in Missouri. And while some lucky grade-schoolers cheered an unexpected day of sledding, hundreds of would-be air travelers had to scramble to come up with a Plan B.

More than 400 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Thursday, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Across town at Midway International Airport, more than 100 flights were canceled.

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