DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The first major snowstorm of the season began its slow eastward march across the Midwest early Thursday, leaving at least three people dead, creating treacherous driving conditions and threatening to disrupt some of the nation's busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend.
Forecasters warned that heavy snow coupled with strong winds would create blizzard conditions for morning commuters from Kansas to Wisconsin, after blanketing the Rocky Mountains earlier in the week.
On the southern edge of the storm system, high winds wreaked havoc, damaging homes and downing trees across Arkansas, the National Weather Service said. A powerful storm peeled the roofs off buildings and toppled trucks in Mobile, Ala., but injured no one. Tornado warnings remained in effect in parts of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama early Thursday.
The storm dropped nearly a foot of snow in Des Moines, but the storm wasn't as dangerous as earlier feared because everyone had good warning of the approaching havoc, said Kevin Skow, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Des Moines. But wind might become a concern, he warned.
"It's starting to taper off," Skow said of the snow early Thursday. "It's soon going to become less of a snow event and more of a wind event."
The airport at Creston, Iowa, recorded the highest winds, with a gust of 53 mph. Skow said wind gusts would grow stronger later Thursday, creating whiteout conditions, before dying down by the evening.
Iowa native Laurie Harry said the weather probably wouldn't stop her from starting up her car Thursday morning.
"If I need to get into work, I'll be here," said Harry, a manager at a Casey's General Store in the western Iowa town of Atlantic. "We've had snow before. Iowans know what to expect. We're used to it."