Tornadoes can hit some areas as the big winter storm moves east before Christmas

More than 90 million Americans are on their way to a strong winter storm that started with snow, strong winds and intense cold in eastern Dakotas and western Minnesota on Wednesday morning. Then it started moving east, making treacherous travel and land flights one of the most anticipated air travel days since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Areas like Norfolk, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina, can expect tornadoes on Thursday, CBS New York meteorologist Lonnie Quinn said in “CBS Evening News.”

“The winds are 50, 60, 70 mph in the center of New York, in the center of Boston. Mount Washington may well come close to setting a record with winds above 150 mph,” said Quinn, warning that there may be power outage at Christmas in the Northeast.

Blizzard warnings were posted in the region while officials from the National Weather Service were calling for winds to fall below 35 F below zero, driven by gusts of more than 60 mph. Numerous travel notices urged drivers to stay off the road and several highways were closed completely.

“Winter has come to the area,” said Greg Gust, a meteorologist at the meteorological service in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The storm was concentrated in southeastern Minnesota and was expected to head toward Eau Claire, Wisconsin and northern Michigan on Wednesday night. The heaviest strip of snow stretched from Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota to Watertown in eastern South Dakota, Gust said.

Blizzard conditions drop in twin cities, sending temperatures plummeting
Heavy snow falls when a snow clearer crosses the Hennepin Avenue bridge towards downtown on December 23, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

The storm was falling in the Twin Cities area on Wednesday afternoon, where Gust said at least 20 centimeters of snow was expected. Interstate 94 in an easterly direction was closed between Monticello and Rogers, west of Minneapolis, for three hours due to an accident and the pile-up of several vehicles. State transport officials said the interstate was likely to be reduced to one lane each way during the night and alerted travelers to vehicles in the ditch.

Minneapolis-St. Paul’s airport had about 300 flight cancellations and 40 delays on Wednesday afternoon, said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. It is expected to be the third busiest day of the Christmas vacation travel period, behind this coming Sunday and Saturday, he said.

“Many people made it out this morning, but it can be difficult to go this afternoon and evening,” said Hogan.

Earlier in the day, a large group of people showed up at Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, only to find that most flights were canceled due to high winds and poor visibility.

“Today would probably be our busiest day since COVID started or definitely just before Thanksgiving,” said Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the Fargo Airport Authority. “Our building was very full this morning when American, Delta and United decided to cancel some flights.”

winter storm - Minneapolis
Snow falls outside the Target Center on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, in Minneapolis.

Andy Clayton-King / AP

The strongest gust was 62 mph in Fargo, said Gust. Conditions were starting to improve as the storm moved east, and Dobberstein hoped that flights would resume later in the afternoon.

Authorities in southeastern South Dakota were responding to several pileups of various vehicles, including one on I-29 north of Sioux Falls involving at least a dozen cars and a dozen semi-trailers, according to the Dell Rapids volunteer firefighter, Rick Morris. He said there were a number of non-life-threatening injuries and some emergency response vehicles were in custody, reported Leader Argus.

Other drivers in eastern North and South Dakota chose to wait for the storm to end. The Coffee Cup Travel Plaza, one of the few stops on I-94 in northeastern South Dakota, was quiet on Wednesday morning, said Dani Zubke, a store employee near the town of Summit.

“There are blizzards, low visibility and no recommended trips,” she said. “It’s been very slow. I don’t know if there are a lot of people out there. Sometimes you can only see the end of our parking lot.”