Major freight carriers are warning customers to expect service delays and shipment rerouting this week across a broad swath of the U.S. heartland, as a huge winter storm strikes.
Carriers said some states face blizzards, with heavy icing and several feet of snow. Railroads issued customer alerts, airlines were delaying or canceling thousands of flights and major highways across many states were fast becoming snarled.
All flights out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were canceled as the city hunkered down under 17 inches of snow and gale-force winds, triggering a wave of cancellations and disruptions across the nation's air system.
In Oklahoma, the turnpike authority closed the Will Rogers Turnpike, an 88-mile toll route from Tulsa to the Missouri border, and was closing more roads on Feb. 1. Eastern Kansas highways were snowpacked but still open that afternoon. Connecticut banned all use of tandem trailers on its roads because of the icy conditions.
Union Pacific Railroad said the storm was moving east over the Rockies, then spreading through the Plains and Midwest to the Great Lakes and Northeast. UP told customers that "Chicago and Milwaukee are expected to be particularly hard-hit as the week progresses," while a blizzard watch was in effect Feb. 1 and 2 for southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and northwest Indiana.
In Wisconsin, the state's Department of Transportation suspended oversized and overweight trucking permits in the worst storm area through noon on Feb. 3. Reports said winds could also cause coastal flooding along Lake Michigan.
The government was also bracing for the impact. The White House said President Obama took a telephone briefing Feb. 1 on preparations from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Craig Fugate, who heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches, warnings or advisories in over 30 states," the White House said, "and blizzard warnings have been issued for 8 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin."
Besides the snow and ice, BNSF Railway said tornadoes and extreme cold from the storm system could affect its network. Eastern railroads CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway told customers they should expects delays of 48 hours for shipments through their northern tier states, plus possible rerouting across different Midwest gateway connections with western railroads.
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