DES MOINES - Heavy snow fell Wednesday in parts of Nebraska and Iowa as a powerful storm threatened a swath of the Midwest and weather officials warned of life-threatening conditions.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for southeast and east central Nebraska as well as most of Iowa. Nebraska could see between 8 and 10 inches of snow and Iowa was expected to get 9 to 12 inches of snow.
Officials in both states warned people to curtail their driving as the storm was expected to create whiteout conditions in some areas.
Elementary school students, some escorted by parents, cross a snowy street en route to school as a blizzard dropped snow over Boulder, Colo., Wednesday. A storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains is heading east and is forecast to bring the first major winter storm of the season to the central plains and Midwest.
The Iowa Department of Transportation advised people to avoid most roads after 8 p.m. Wednesday and until noon on Thursday.
In Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman encouraged people not to travel unless they had to, and to use extra caution on the roads. The Nebraska State Patrol and the state's emergency management agency were preparing for possible road closures, and new state roads director Randy Peters said his agency was ready to deploy 650 snow plows throughout Nebraska and six new tow plows in the Omaha area.
"All this snowfall will cause some nasty driving conditions, especially out in the open areas," said meteorologist Kenny Podrazik. "It's going to be a life-threatening situation."
Podrazik also warned about the storm's powerful winds. Sustained winds in Iowa will be up to 30 mph with gusts of up to 50 mph. Nebraska winds will be up to 30 mph with gusts of up to 45 mph.
Motorists were scrambling for the exits on Interstate 80 as the storm roared through central Nebraska on Wednesday afternoon. In Grand Island, a city of 49,000 that hugs the interstate, drivers were creeping through whiteout conditions on slick roads.
"We have a lot of stranded drivers," said Robert Williams, a manager at the Bosselman Travel Center in Grand Island. "The parking lot is packed, and the restaurant is full. Visibility is very slim."
Williams said the truck stop reserved hotel rooms for its employees and bought extra road salt in advance to keep its parking lot clear. But Williams said the snow and wind were so intense that a tractor clearing the parking lot couldn't keep up.
"The overall temperature isn't bad, but the wind chill is a killer," he said.
In Atlantic, Iowa, about 60 miles east of the Nebraska state line, Laurie Harry, a manager at a Casey's General Store, said people were fueling up their cars and picking up groceries Wednesday morning, ahead of the storm.
But the Iowa native said she wasn't worried about the storm. Harry planned to drive into work Thursday morning.
"If I need to get into work, I'll be here," she said. "We've had snow before. Iowans know what to expect. We're used to it."
The storm will affect most of Iowa, with snowfall expected from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday evening.
Iowa transportation officials said snowdrifts could be several feet deep because of strong winds. Visibility could be one-quarter mile or less before turning into whiteout conditions.
In Madrid, about 30 miles outside Des Moines, auto repair owner Steve Simmons was also getting ready for the snow. He said customers had been in all morning looking for snow tires ahead of the storm.
"It's been a busy day for me," he said. "Everybody seems to wait to the last minute for this kind of thing."
Simmons said he would be busy Thursday plowing snow at several churches and private businesses. He said that work helps offset the slow periods at his one-man auto shop.
"I keep up with it pretty well," he said. "It brings in business. The bad weather usually benefits me greatly."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.