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Bad Weather Closes Schools in New York

February 12, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Heavy snow and gusting wind in the East and Midwest closed schools, toppled tractor-trailers and created the rare phenomenon of snow ``rollers″ blowing across fields in Illinois.

Up to 6 inches of snow and wind gusting to 48 mph in western New York on Wednesday closed schools and prompted authorities to restrict travel as blowing snow cut visibility and caused numerous accidents.

``I’ve never seen the visibility so bad. It was like a wall of white. I couldn’t even see people’s (car) lights,″ said Beth Rogala, an office assistant who needed 50 minutes to make what is normally a 20-minute trip from her home in Solvay, a western Syracuse suburb.

More than 100 schools were closed from Buffalo to Syracuse, about 150 miles to the east.

The storm in New York followed wind-driven snow that created hazardous conditions Tuesday in the Midwest.

Wind gusting to 75 mph toppled utility poles and blew over at least nine tractor-trailer rigs in Iowa.

``It was a total whiteout,″ said motorist John Tesdahl, who was involved in a wreck south of Kensett, Iowa.

In Illinois, Tuesday’s high wind was blamed for power outages that blacked out some 17,500 customers in the Chicago area and around Peoria, Commonwealth Edison said. Service was restored Wednesday morning.

Some areas saw a rare weather phenomenon where snowballs form naturally and roll through fields like tumbleweeds. Meteorologists call them ``rollers″ and say they can range from the size of a golf ball to a 30-gallon drum.

``At first I thought they were just clumps of sod being turned over in the field,″ said Stacy Bowman, a Springfield, Ill., resident who stopped to watch the snow formations on her way home from work Tuesday night. ``Then I thought maybe some kids were out there, but I didn’t see any footprints around.″

Authorities say they suspect high wind caused 14 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway freight train to leave the tracks near rural Ancona, Ill., Tuesday night.

One derailed car was carrying battery acid, but none of it spilled, according to Burlington Northern spokesman Steve Forsberg, who added railroad officials haven’t determined what caused the accident.

On the West Coast, steady rain lashed Southern California Wednesday, giving the region a needed soaking, but flooding roads and snarling traffic. Ski resorts already hurt by a warm, dry winter were forced to close temporarily.

The California Highway Patrol reported nearly 400 accidents in Los Angeles County Wednesday morning. A crash on wet pavement in the high-desert city of Lancaster killed the driver, officials said.

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