Conditions of Blizzarding Cause Travel disruptions in the Northern and Central Plains

In late December 2023, a severe winter storm swept across the northern Great Plains of the United States, causing significant disruptions in travel and posing risks to power infrastructure. This article delves into the details of this weather event and its widespread impact on the region.

Overview of the Storm

The storm was characterized by heavy snowfall, strong winds, and blizzard conditions. Over 725,000 people in the northern Great Plains, including central South Dakota, southern North Dakota, Nebraska, and parts of Colorado and Kansas, were placed under a blizzard warning​​.

In central South Dakota, snowfall reached up to 13 inches with wind gusts as high as 55 miles per hour. The National Weather Service issued warnings that travel could be very difficult to impossible due to reduced visibility from widespread blowing snow​​.

Impact on Road Travel

The hazardous weather conditions led to several road incidents. In Nebraska, an accident involving several jackknifed tractor-trailers closed a section of eastbound Interstate 80 near York.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation closed portions of Interstate 80 and Highway 30 due to snow and high winds making travel impossible. There were 28 crashes and nearly 150 weather-related incidents in the state on Christmas day alone​​​​.

In Kansas, an elderly woman lost her life in a crash on a snowy highway, and in Merrick County, Nebraska, a car accident caused by ice led to multiple hospitalizations​​​​.

North Dakota Highway Patrol closed Interstate 29 from Grand Forks to the Canadian border due to ice-covered roads, and Colorado and Kansas temporarily closed I-70 due to safety concerns​​.

Impact on Air Travel

Initially, the impact on air travel was modest, with fewer than 150 flights canceled across the U.S. However, there were nearly 1,700 flight delays, and conditions at airports like Denver International Airport were significantly affected, with more than 381 flights delayed and nearly 20 cancellations​​​​.

Power Infrastructure and Forecast

Forecasters warned of possible power outages, particularly in South Dakota, where strong winds could damage trees and power lines. Blizzard conditions and ice accumulation led to significant ice accretions in eastern North Dakota and northeastern South Dakota, raising concerns about the stability of power infrastructure​​​​.

Future Outlook

As the storm progressed, up to 4 more inches of snow were expected to fall into Wednesday morning in affected areas. Travel conditions were predicted to improve drastically on Wednesday in the northern Plains, but the storm was expected to move towards the Midwest, potentially disrupting travel and power infrastructure there as well​​​​.


The December 2023 blizzard in the U.S. northern Great Plains exemplifies the disruptive power of severe winter weather. It underscores the importance of timely weather forecasts and emergency preparedness to mitigate the impact on travel, ensure public safety, and protect infrastructure.

As climate patterns continue to evolve, such extreme weather events may become more frequent and intense, necessitating enhanced resilience and adaptive strategies in affected regions.

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