A fierce winter storm was leaving dangerous ice, heavy snow and vicious winds in its wake as it slogged eastward Wednesday, snarling traffic and closing hundreds of schools from the Upper Midwest through New England.
More than a foot of snow was expected in parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, where the National Weather Service warned of “extremely dangerous blizzard conditions” and near whiteout driving conditions. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph could build snow drifts between 8 and 15 feet tall.
Parts of New England also girded themselves for bone-chilling wind gusts and snow accumulations of up to a foot by the end of the day.
“It's horrible out there,” said Todd Lane, an assistant manager of a Quik Trip convenience store in Des Moines, where several inches of new snow was reported overnight.
Although business was fairly normal overnight, it nearly all came from snow plow drivers — most looking for coffee and energy drinks, he said.
“Outside of the city there's 15-foot drifts and people are stuck in them,” Lane said the drivers told him. “It sucks and it just keeps on coming.”
In Wisconsin, as many as a dozen tractor-trailers were stuck on interstate ramps made impassible by heavy snow where I-39, I-90 and I-94 intersect near Madison, the State Patrol reported.
Blizzard warnings covered eastern Nebraska, where overnight snowfall reports of 12 inches were common, and parts of Kansas and Minnesota. Snow also fell in western and central Michigan. Schools and colleges across the region were closed.
“For the most part, we're telling people to stay home,” said Roger Vachalek, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Des Moines. He said if motorists get stranded, “you might end up being out there for quite a while.”
In the West, pounded by the storm's rain and snow earlier this week, bitter wind chills as low as 40 below were sweeping across portions of southern Montana. The biting winds also were moving across Wyoming and South Dakota, according to the National Weather Service.
By the time the storm moves off the Maine coast Thursday night, it may have affected as much as two-thirds of the country, said Jim Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines.
“It's a monster of a storm,” Lee said.
Maine and New Hampshire could see snow accumulations of 6 to 10 inches capped off by rain and sleet in the evening.
In northern New York, as much as a foot of snow was expected to accumulate Wednesday and more than 3 feet was expected by the week's end near the Great Lakes.
Hundreds of schools across New York's eastern half were closed or delayed the start of classes Wednesday. Schools also were closed in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Tuesday; all departures were canceled out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and only a few were scheduled at Des Moines International Airport.
The storm drenched California with rain, blanketed the mountain West with snow and brought 100 mph winds to New Mexico earlier this week. More than 20 inches of snow fell over Flagstaff, Ariz. — more than four times the record of 5 inches set in 1956.
At least five deaths were blamed on the weather, including an Arizona hunter who was killed Monday night when a large pine tree snapped and crushed him as he slept in a tent. The driver of a sport utility vehicle that plunged 90 feet off an icy road into the Texas Panhandle's Palo Duro Canyon also died.
Heavy rain hit some parts of the South with more than 4 inches reported in spots in New Orleans on Tuesday.