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Snow Hits Midwest; Ice Clogs Mississippi River

December 19, 1989

Undated (AP) _ Snow whitened the Midwest today, sleet put the Deep South on the skids and ice clogged the Mississippi and Missouri rivers as much of the nation remained in the grip of a cold wave blamed for 40 deaths.

″Icky, icky, icky,″ was how Duplin County, N.C., sheriff’s dispatcher Jennie Myrick described it this morning. ″We have sleet, lovely sleet. We have accumulation of about an inch on most of the roads.″

A wintry storm bedeviled the Deep South on Monday with sleet and freezing rain, and another onslaught of cold air from Canada advanced through the Plains today. In Illinois this morning, Peoria and Springfield received about 4 inches of snow, with an inch reported in the Chicago area.

In Colorado, motorists slipping and sliding along icy, snow-packed roads deluged the Rocky Mountain AAA Auto Club with 100 to 150 calls an hour for tow trucks.

Ski resort operators, meanwhile, were a very happy lot.

″We’re set up for the rest of the season,″ said Barb Jennings, spokeswoman at a Steamboat Springs ski lodge, where storms have dumped 110 inches of powder in the last nine days. ″We’re ready to do some powder skiing.″

On Monday, the storm iced roads from Mississippi to the Carolinas. There were scores of minor accidents, and traffic came to a standstill in many areas. ″If you had a cardiac now it could be a matter of living or dying because of the roads,″ said police dispatcher Ronnie Toliver in Little Rock, Ark.

The cold has been blamed for nine traffic deaths and 31 other fatalities since Friday, among them Atlanta Falcons player Brad Beckman, who was killed Monday in a crash on icy Interstate 85 outside Atlanta.

The fatalities also included a homeless man who set himself on fire in a New York City subway station while using a hotplate to keep warm, and an 86- year-old found dead, apparently of exposure, in the driveway of her Birmingham, Mich., home.

In Chicago, a man got stuck in the ventilator shaft at a restaurant, apparently during a burglary attempt, and died of exposure, police said.

In Apalachin, N.Y., a woman accused of pouring water on her 7-year-old foster daughter and leaving her outside as the temperature dipped to 5 degrees was charged Monday with murder. Police said Lisa Braden, 36, put the girl outside as punishment.

Dickinson, N.D., reported a record 23-below zero this morning. Bismarck reached minus 34, two degrees above the record. Denver’s Stapleton International Airport reported a record 10 below-zero reading, one degree below the previous record set in 1924.

In Youngstown, Ohio, the temperature dipped to minus 3 this morning, breaking a record of 2 below set in 1963. Monday’s reading of 12 below also set a record.

Record-breaking cold gripped at least 11 cities Monday, including Pittsburgh, minus 7, and Lexington, Ky., 1 below. The outlook for most of the country is for below-average temperatures for the next month or so, according to the National Weather Service.

With even the desert Southwest expecting relatively chilly 60-degree temperatures, South Florida is the only hot spot. Miami’s forecast called for highs in the 80s today.

Though winter doesn’t officially begin until Thursday, ice forced closure of a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River to barge traffic from Cairo, Ill., to St. Louis. The ice compounded navigation problems posed by low water that has plagued barge operators because of the summer’s drought, the Coast Guard said in announcing the closure Monday night.

This is the slowest time of year for shipping on the Mississippi.

The Missouri River turned to ice for the 75 miles between Blair, Neb., just north of Omaha, and Sioux City, Iowa, the weather service reported.

The ice jam began late Friday and has continued to grow. Officials feared that the freeze could cause problems for communities that pump their water from the river, and Weather Service hydrologist Roy Osugi didn’t hold out hope for an early thaw.

″Nothing is going to bust it up except warmer weather,″ Osugi said. ″We think it’s going to stay in place at least this week because it’s going to stay very cold.″

In St. Joseph, Mo., officials activated a new emergency pump as a precaution to keep water flowing to the city.

Some merchants welcomed the chill, saying it drove people to warm indoor malls and shops.

″Were selling lots of mufflers, outerwear, coats and gloves,″ said Robert Spevak, senior vice president at the Alexander’s department store in New York.

Update hourly