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Blizzard buries Iowa City, clean-up to continue today

BY AUDREY SMITH | FEBRUARY 03, 2011 7:10 AM

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The beat-down blizzard that hit Iowa City on Tuesday was one of the worst the area has seen, officials said, though it probably didn’t set any records.

By Wednesday morning, snowfall across Johnson County ranged from 10 to 15 inches. Coupled with high winds and blizzard-like conditions, the storm left drifts several feet high across the city, shut down local schools and the University of Iowa, as well as made travel — and much of anything else — a pain.

The conditions were extremely dangerous and an unusual occurrence, said Andy Ervin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Davenport.

“Snowfall amounts in excess of a foot are extremely rare,” he said, and areas in southeastern Iowa, Missouri, and northern Illinois saw as much as 20 inches of the white stuff.

The storm, which stretched from Oklahoma to New England, boasted wind gusts reaching 50 to 60 mph.

“Combine that with the snow, and it produced an incredible blizzard,” Ervin said.

The severity of the storm is making cleanup in Iowa City difficult. By Wednesday evening, all of the arterial streets had been cleared.

“As far as snowfall amount, this is the worst storm we’ve had in recent memory,” said Rick Fosse, the city’s Public Works director.

Fosse said plows would move on to medium- and low-priority streets, hoping to plow all residential roads at least once by today. Crews were also laying a sand-based mix and clearing as many residential roads as possible.

Iowa City police towed 15 cars that posed safety risks, said Sgt. Mike Lord. Other vehicles in the way of the city’s cleanup efforts would be addressed into today, he said.

The Iowa National Guard was called in for assistance on Tuesday night. By Wednesday, the team of six members and three Humvees had executed 10 missions, helping 36 people who were immobilized on roads because of the snow.

Col. Greg Hapgood said before the storm hit Iowa, the National Guard discussed emergency response with various state agencies, including Iowa Homeland Security.

“In this case, it was decided that we may need some highway-assistance teams,” Hapgood said.

The system also created difficulties for Iowa City schools. Superintendent Steve Murley said the notice that school would be let out at 1 p.m. Tuesday took too long to call 58,000 numbers.

The district has developed new methods for alerting those affected by cancellations, including creating a Twitter account and a new phone number.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said officials would assess the weather situation at the earliest opportunity in order to determine whether to open for classes today, with a final decision coming this morning.

Nationwide, the storm forced tens of millions of Americans to stay inside and caused 13,000 flight cancellations for the week.

At least a dozen people died as a result of the storm, including a New York homeless man who burned to death while attempting to ignite cans of cooking fuel.

But one ray of hope emerged from the blizzardy mess on Wednesday: Punxsutawney Phil. The famous groundhog did not see his shadow — according to tradition, winter will end within six weeks.

The Associated Presscontributed to this article.


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