Storm blocks highways, closes schools, cancels flights across central US

The storm is piling up nearly 30cm of snow in parts of the Midwest. PHOTO: AFP

CHICAGO (NYTIMES) - A sprawling storm blocked highways, closed schools and cancelled flights across much of the central United States on Wednesday (Feb 2), with nearly 30cm of snow piling up in parts of the Midwest while areas to the south braced themselves for potentially dangerous accumulations of ice.

The system left large piles of snow in Chicago, St Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, all places accustomed to wintry disruptions, but also threatened to take down power lines and cause power outages in places such as Texas and Tennessee, where extreme winter weather is less common, and where the worst of the storm was not expected to hit until Wednesday evening or Thursday.

"The approaching storm front is forecast to be one of the most dangerous events in our recent history of record-breaking disasters, due to the possibilities of heavy icing accumulations," said Mr Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management.

The storm disrupted life across three time zones, closing courtrooms in New Mexico, blocking highways in Missouri, and causing crashes in Indiana.

Bus service in parts of Illinois was interrupted, colleges in Kansas called off classes, and as much as 10 inches (25.4cm) of snow was expected in parts of Michigan.

Some of the worst effects were still unfolding, with temperatures dropping below freezing in Arkansas, where the National Guard was deployed, and police officers in Lubbock, Texas, trying to persuade people to seek shelter.

"If anybody who's obviously homeless is set up with a campsite, or whatever the case may be, we're not looking to tear down the campsite," said Sergeant Steven Bergen from the Lubbock police.

"We just want them to survive the night."

More than 2,100 flights were cancelled nationwide, according to FlightAware, a tracking website, and Amtrak paused train services across the Midwest and the South.

Ms Faith Borden, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Nashville, Tennessee, said: "Any ice around here is uncommon and could cause glazes and road issues. We are not used to that around here. That could be a problem."

That icy cocktail of precipitation had many residents bracing themselves for the worst.

"Everyone is dreading the power going out," said Mr Chris Gilbert, an employee at an Ace Hardware store in Germantown, Ohio, south of Dayton, where customers were rushing to buy shovels.

Around Dallas and Oklahoma City, some schools had called off classes for Thursday and Friday.

In Kentucky, forecasters warned of tree damage and "treacherous driving conditions".

In New Lebanon, Ohio, Ms Carla Edgington filled her grocery cart with essentials such as cereal and potatoes.

"I want things you can eat if the power goes out," said Ms Edgington, who feared that the ice could bring down power lines.

In Texas, where snow was accumulating in the Panhandle and sleet and freezing rain were already falling south-east of Lubbock, some residents feared a repeat of a storm last winter that knocked out power for days in some areas.

Although forecasters warned of heavy snow in West Texas and significant icing around Dallas, the prospect of above-freezing temperatures by the weekend lessened some fears.

Weather service meteorologist William Iwasko said: "It's really the duration that is not comparable to last year.

"We had those freezing temperatures for over a week."

As the storm pushed to the north-east, it promised to bring significant snowfall to parts of New York and Ontario, Canada. Governor Kathy Hochul of New York relocated some plow drivers on Long Island to parts of the state that could receive 30cm or more of snow.

"We're now in the thick of winter and this newest storm is poised to hit us with everything in the weather arsenal - heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain," said Ms Hochul, whose state endured another round of severe weather this past weekend.

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