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Blizzard pounds West, Midwest

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 19, 2011
A cop directs highway traffic in New Mexico on Monday. Parts of the Southwest could see up to 2 feet of snow.
A cop directs highway traffic in New Mexico on Monday. Parts of the Southwest could see up to 2 feet of snow.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Roads are closed in Oklahoma and Kansas
  • A blizzard warning is in effect for five states
  • New Mexico State Police shut down two interstates
  • Zero visibility is reported along some roads

(CNN) -- Interstates and highways were shut down Monday night as a large winter weather system brought heavy snow, fierce winds and ice to at least five states in the West and Midwest.

There were blizzard conditions in parts of western Kansas and southeast Colorado, with visibility of less than a quarter-mile, said Ariel Cohen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

A blizzard warning was in effect for those areas along with northeastern New Mexico, the northwest Texas panhandle and the Oklahoma panhandle, he said. The severe weather was starting to affect Missouri late Monday, with a winter weather advisory in effect for the northwest corner of the state.

The New Mexico State Police shut down Interstate 40, a major east-west artery, from Albuquerque to the Texas state line, saying there was zero visibility due to blowing snow. Interstate 25 was shut down from just north of Albuquerque to the Colorado state line because of the blizzard conditions, which included snow-packed and icy roads.

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The state police also shut down U.S. and state highways in the northeast corner of the state.

Texas authorities closed I-40 westbound in the Texas panhandle at New Mexico's request. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Transportation said motel rooms had already filled in Tucumcari, New Mexico, the first major town on I-40 across the state line, because drivers weren't allowed to travel any farther on the highway.

Cohen called it a strong storm system that is producing "very hazardous" conditions. While such storms typically occur during the winter months, he said, the large area of strong winds combined with the snow is unusual.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry activated the Texas Military Forces as a precautionary measure to provide any needed assistance on the roads, his office said.

Snow accumulations of up to 6 inches were likely, with higher accumulations expected across the northwest Texas Panhandle, Perry's office said.

Vehicle crashes were being reported around Amarillo, which lies along I-40 on the Panhandle, said Trooper Gabe Medrano of the Texas Department of Public Safety. He said it was already snowing heavily Monday evening and was getting worse.

"We have whiteout conditions for the north of Amarillo at this point," he said, adding the roads will probably freeze over once the snow stops. "It's going to make for pretty bad conditions."

Flights were canceled by mid-afternoon at the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, which meant morning departures were scrubbed, spokesman Patrick Rhodes said. But "nothing much" has happened at the airport, he said, and he expected operations to be back to normal by mid-morning Tuesday.

To the north, in the Oklahoma Panhandle, U.S. highways were closed and transportation workers were salting the roads, according to Michaelann Ootean of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Roads and highways were "completely snow-packed" or covered with ice in much of western Kansas, according to the state's Department of Transportation. They included I-70, which crosses the state from west to east, and I-135 through Salina.

Two U.S. highways, 50 and 54, were shut in southwest Kansas. The DOT said U.S. 50 was closed because of blizzard conditions and "multiple accidents" in Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Transportation shut down highways across the southeastern part of the state because of snow and icy conditions. I-25 was shut southbound from Pueblo to the New Mexico state line, and the DOT said lodging was unavailable south of Colorado City. Northbound I-25 remained open.

CNN's Nick Valencia, Tracy Sabo, and Greg Morrison contributed to this report.

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