CHICAGO (AFP) – A fierce early winter storm pounded several Midwestern US states, shutting busy airports and highways and dropping enough snow to cause the roof of Minnesota’s famed Metrodome football stadium to collapse.
Icy temperatures, and brutal snow and winds punished the upper Midwest, snarling travel across about half the United States as the storm barreled eastward.
Highways around the region were coated with a layer of ice and snow, while stiff winds caused occasional white outs in some areas.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said that 1,400 flights were canceled and more were likely to be scuttled.
Airlines at the city’s O’Hare International Airport reported delays of 45 minutes or more for arriving and departing flights.
At Chicago’s Midway Airport meanwhile, delays were about half an hour, and some 300 flights were canceled.
The storm dumped 17 inches (43 centimeters) on Minneapolis, causing the roof of the Metrodome — home of the Minnesota Vikings American football team to cave in and forcing a postponement and venue change for its scheduled game against the New York Giants.
The stadium’s inflatable roof sagged like a collapsed souffle when the snow’s weight damaged some of the covering’s teflon panels.
Forecasters said the blizzard conditions were on their way to Chicago and northern Illinois, Iowa, and large tracts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.
The storm — 10 days before the onset of winter — took its greatest toll in Minnesota, where as much as two feet (61 centimeters) of snow had fallen in some locations, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
The state’s largest city Minneapolis was under a blanket of white 17 inches (43 cm) deep, the heaviest snowfall to hit the city in more than 19 years and the fifth-biggest on record.
As an indicator of the storm’s severity, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — a transit hub with expertise in contending with foul weather — shut down for the first time in years.
“Travel conditions will remain hazardous and potentially dangerous,” the NWS said in a weather bulletin.
Blizzard warnings were issued for parts of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin as snow socked the states in tandem with wind gusts topping 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour.
Roads in much of Wisconsin and Iowa have been closed or virtually impassible, and while snowfall was expected to let up later Sunday, temperatures were predicted to nosedive with wind chill readings well below zero (minus 18 degrees Celsius).
“The Wisconsin Department of Transportation along with the State Patrol is advising motorists not to travel on any Wisconsin highway now through Sunday, unless absolutely necessary,” the department alerted on its website.
Travel was as treacherous on the ground as in the air.
Snowfall was not due to be as deep in Chicago, but the Windy City was expected to live up to its nickname, with gusts stronger than 50 miles (80 km) per hour forecast.
Flight delays were averaging about an hour at Chicago’s O’Hare International, the world’s third busiest airport, with minor delays at nearby Midway Airport.
The storm was causing temperatures to plunge as far south as Atlanta and the system was expected to bring heavy rain or snow Sunday across the entire East Coast, from the northeast state of Maine clear down to southern Florida.