Midwest storm cancels flights, brings down Metrodome roof

A ferocious winter storm tore through the Midwest over the weekend, delaying flights, closing highways and, on Sunday, triggering the collapse of the Minneapolis Metrodome’s inflatable roof.

Wicked weather swept through the high plains Saturday, closing interstates in Iowa and South Dakota, stranding travelers in airports and pummeling some cities so hard that officials pulled in their snowplows, declaring the fight futile.

In Minnesota, no stranger to brutal storms, the blizzard unleashed as much as 22 inches of snow, the deepest accumulation since a 1991 Halloween storm dumped 28 inches on the Twin Cities. But 17 inches of snow and gusting winds were too much for the 28-year-old Metrodome.

“It’s not like we’re not used to inclement weather,” said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. “But this one was the mother of all storms. It really knocked us.”


All day Saturday, workers fought the heavy snow on the Metrodome roof, spraying hot water to accelerate snowmelt. But by 6 p.m., with conditions too dangerous, management ordered workers inside. Three of the dome’s 10 Teflon-coated panels failed Sunday morning, and snow spilled onto the playing field.

Lester said the roof had failed three times in the months after the stadium opened in April 1982. Then management created a combination of rooftop hoses and a ventilation system to heat the fabric from inside and melt away the snow’s weight. The roof had held up ever since.

But it took just one catastrophic event to bring it down. “Like the Titanic,” Lester said.

The pro football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants was moved to Detroit. It had already been postponed until Monday because the Giants’ plane was unable to land in Minneapolis on Saturday.


By Sunday, Chicago was feeling the storm’s wrath, with wind gusting to 47 mph. The weather forced the cancellation of 1,700 flights at Chicago airports and blew the roof off the Skyline Stage at Navy Pier.

At midday, a 63-mph gust was measured on Lake Michigan near Chicago. A little after 4 p.m., high water closed one lane along Lake Shore Drive.

Waves up to 25 feet crashed along the shore, eroding beaches in northwestern Indiana and southwestern Michigan.

The Metrodome incident could strengthen the Vikings’ hand in their negotiations over whether to stay in Minneapolis or move to Los Angeles. The Vikings’ lease expires after the 2011 season.


For years, National Football League teams have used the threat of relocating to L.A. to hasten stadium deals in their cities. The dome’s collapse could increase pressure on Minnesota officials to provide public funding for a new stadium.

Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest market, has been without an NFL franchise since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

Of course, a Los Angeles team would also be exempt from blizzards. No snow bowls here.

But in the Midwest, residents take winter in stride. Andrew Greengrass, 38, of Savage, Minn., had to cancel plans to drive his family to several holiday parties Saturday at the blizzard’s peak. “You couldn’t see anything,” he said. “You couldn’t tell if you were on the road or on the shoulder.”


But Greengrass remained unruffled. “Unless you couple this with minus-30" degrees, he said, “big whoop.”

Times staff writer Sam Farmer in Los Angeles and the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.