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The weather outside frightful for many |

The weather outside frightful for many

Dana Fields
| Wednesday, December 25, 2002 12:00 a.m

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A storm system blamed for at least 12 deaths moved across the Plains and headed toward the Northeast — leaving up to a foot of snow across parts of Oklahoma and making travel hazardous in the Missouri Ozarks on Christmas Eve.

Winter storm warnings and advisories were in effect Tuesday from the mountains of New Mexico to Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. Snow is expected today in northern New Jersey, southeastern New York and southern New England, creating a white Christmas, said the National Weather Service.

Snow accumulations up to 14 inches were possible yesterday in the Missouri Ozarks, where a second round of snowfall is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches atop a coating of the white stuff Monday. Temperatures were only in the teens as far south as the Texas Panhandle.

Wind-blown snow produced near-whiteout conditions yesterday morning in parts of southwest Missouri and blew snow that already had fallen Monday into drifts. In south-central Missouri, thick ice formed on top of the snow.

Roads throughout the southern half of Missouri were treacherous in some areas yesterday, the State Highway Patrol said.

Up to 8 inches of snow had fallen on parts of Kansas by yesterday morning, and light snow continued falling in the state’s southeast corner.

“You really don’t want to be out in it,” said Jerry Appel, working at a filling station in Garden City, Kan. “But it’s good! It means a white Christmas.”

A white Christmas is the exception in Kansas, where Wichita has had at least 1 inch of snow on the ground for Christmas only 11 times since 1888, the weather service said.

Some people welcomed the snowfall, although it as left a deadly path. Since Monday, the system has been blamed for five deaths in Missouri, three in Oklahoma, three in Kansas and one in New Mexico.

In warmer air southeast of the snow belt, thunderstorms spawned tornadoes yesterday. Homes were damaged in southwest Georgia.

“The fact that it’s Christmas Eve makes it doubly bad,” Ty Bettis said as he helped a neighbor clean up after the damage in Leesburg, Ga., about 10 miles north of Albany.

Up to a foot of snow had fallen in Oklahoma, giving many parts of the state the prospect of their first white Christmas since 1975, said weather service meteorologist David Andra.

“It’s really windy and cold,” Vince Harmon, a hotel bellman in Oklahoma City, said yesterday as he retrieved guests’ cars from the lot and de-iced their windows. “A lot of the guests say they are ready to get out of here and go someplace where it is warm.”

Operations had returned to normal yesterday at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport after flight delays Monday there and at Tulsa, Okla.

Officials at Missouri’s Springfield-Branson Regional Airport cautioned holiday travelers yesterday to call ahead to check on flights. Because of the uncertain forecast, American Airlines allowed passengers to adjust their travel plans to and from St. Louis’ Lambert Airport without penalty into Christmas Day.

In northern New York, up to 20 inches of snow are possible on Christmas Day. Airport officials in Albany had crews on alert yesterday.

“We have lined up our cots. If necessary, we will have sleeping areas for people,” said Albany International Airport spokesman Doug Myers.

“It won’t ruin Christmas at all,” said Matthew Cutrone, 23, of Kingston, N.Y., as he waited at the Albany airport for his girlfriend to arrive from North Carolina. “She’s never had a white Christmas.”

Up to 10 inches of snow had fallen in the Texas Panhandle yesterday. Residents of Clovis, N.M. also have 10 inches on the ground —the biggest accumulation in four years.

Many motorists driving across the Panhandle gave up and pulled over until roads cleared up yesterday morning. Vehicles filled the lot at the Flying J Travel Plaza truck stop along East Interstate 40 in Amarillo late Monday, said customer-service manager Mary Moody.

“It’s horrible,” she said.

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