Huge Winter Storm Moves East: Snow, Sleet, Heavy Rain Target 39 States

ARLINGTON, Va. – A blanket of snow and ice descended on a wide swath of the nation’s northern tier Wednesday as a mammoth winter storm affecting every state east of the Mississippi River left a trail of closures and travel headaches.

While the Central Plains saw the bulk of its snow in the overnight hours, cities including Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Washington were getting the worst of the storm on Wednesday.

Airline traffic was under siege, with almost 700 flights canceled into and out of metro Washington’s three airports alone by 7 a.m. More than 205 were canceled and about the same number delayed at Chicago’s O’Hare, Philadelphia International had more than 120 flights canceled.

The storm is expected to end Thursday, but not before affecting more than 200 million people.

The National Weather Service’s local forecast for parts of Virginia on Wednesday was several inches of snow followed by ice and sleet. It’s warning of dangerous conditions was a recurring theme across much of the nation.

“Travel will be very difficult. The hazardous conditions will impact the morning and evening commutes,” the notice said. “The combined weight of snow, sleet and freezing rain could result in downed branches and isolated power outages.”

In Washington, D.C., federal offices were closed although emergency staff and teleworkers remained on the job.

School closing in major cities and their environs stretched from Minneapolis down to Kansas City and east to Washington and Philadelphia.

In suburban Arlington, the school schedule has been plagued by a string of closures and late openings all winter. High school math teacher Bill Drake was preparing to begin digging out amid heavy snowfall that was forecast to turn to ice.

“I love snow days as much as the kids,” Drake said. “It’s hard to make up for missed time in the classroom, but the extra time with my family is a huge bonus.”

Officials scheduled vehicle restrictions on Pennsylvania highways Wednesday, urging people to monitor snow and ice.

Daily snowfall records were set on Tuesday in North Little Rock, Arkansas; and Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; all of which received several inches of snow, AccuWeather reported.

A quarter-inch of ice weighed down branches and power lines in Boone County, Arkansas, knocking out power for 2,000 households on Tuesday night. Car accidents and road closures also paralyzed parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, AccuWeather said.

On Wednesday, 4 to 8 inches of snow was expected from eastern Nebraska into eastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. Temperatures will be below freezing from the Dakotas into the Upper Mississippi Valley through Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

The Mid-Atlantic will see snow change to sleet and freezing rain, followed by rain. Areas near the central Appalachians may see 4 to 8 inches of snow and ice accumulations up to 0.25 inches.

In the South, an additional 1 to 3 inches of heavy rain will fall on already saturated grounds through Wednesday afternoon. The National Weather service has issued flood and flash flood watches from the Lower Mississippi Valley into portions of the Ohio Valley.

West of the Rocky Mountains, the National Weather Service said high temperatures will be 10 to 20 degrees below average through Thursday. More than a foot of snow is expected through Thursday night in some of the major mountain ranges from Washington and Oregon into Arizona and southwestern Colorado.