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Blizzard conditions on northern Plains, record warmth from Plains to East

January 4, 1997

Near-blizzard conditions halted travel on parts of the northern Plains Saturday with blowing snow and ice-covered highways, while record high temperatures stretched from the southern Plains to the East Coast.

Snow blown by wind gusting to 40 mph cut visibility to as little as 30 feet across parts of the Dakota into central Minnesota. As the storm pushed toward the east, up to 2 feet of snow was possible in central and northeastern Minnesota by Sunday afternoon.

Authorities shut down Interstate 94 between Sauk Centre in central Minnesota and Fargo, N.D., and Minnesota pulled snowplows off roads in some counties because of poor visibility and stalled vehicles getting in the way.

Stranded travelers had rented all 25 rooms at the Gopher Prairie Motel in Sauk Centre. Said clerk Mike Botz: ``The freeway’s a block from here, and I can’t see it.″

Across the eastern Dakotas, 200 miles of north-south I-29 was shut down from Brookings, S.D., to Grand Forks, N.D. South Dakota’s Highway Patrol said more than 100 vehicles were believed stalled along its stretch of the highway. South Dakota also closed part of I-90 in the western part of the state.

Fifteen inches of snow fell by midday at Summit, in northeastern South Dakota.

The snow was expected to move eastward overnight into Wisconsin and Michigan, turning into rain in southern sections of Wisconsin and Michigan and northern Illinois.

South of the snow belt, however, unseasonably warm weather stretched from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast.

Temperatures hit record highs from the 50s into the 80s in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

The high of 72 at St. Louis, Mo., toppled a record of 68 that had been on the record books since 1888, and North Little Rock, Ark., erased a record set in 1880 with its high of 77.

Corpus Christi, Texas, topped out at a record 87. Washington’s Dulles Airport had a record 74.

Thunderstorms were possible along the Mississippi Valley as cold air forced its way through the warmer air to the south.

Saturday’s temperatures around the Lower 48 states ranged from a morning low of 4 above zero at Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., to the early afternoon reading of 87 at Corpus Christ. The lowest wind chill was 24 below zero at Glasgow, Mont., and Devils Lake, N.D.

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