Snowstorm hits Midwest as region braces for ice and freezing rain

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CHICAGO — A sprawling storm blocked highways, closed schools and canceled flights across much of the central United States on Wednesday, with nearly a foot of snow piling up in parts of the Midwest while parts of the south were preparing for potentially dangerous ice accumulations.

In central Illinois, where residents are used to snow, bus service was disrupted and officials described it as the worst storm in years. In Indianapolis, where snow was still hours away, steady rain made it impossible to treat the roads with salt. And in Kansas and Missouri, colleges and Covid-19 testing sites closed as snow piled up.

“The roads are snowy, slippery and treacherous,” said Gary Lezak, chief meteorologist for KSHB-TV in Kansas City, Mo., where the worst of the storm had passed by noon. “It only takes one car to swerve and lose control, and it can cause a chain reaction.”

As disruptive as the snow has been, forecasters have warned that the worst impacts could still come. A freezing cocktail of rainfall threatened Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as southern Indiana and Ohio. In many of these locations freezing rain and snow are expected to intensify late Wednesday and into Thursday.

“Everyone dreads the power outage,” said Chris Gilbert, a worker at an Ace Hardware store in Germantown, Ohio, south of Dayton, where customers flocked to buy shovels.

More than 2,000 flights have been canceled nationwide, according to FlightAware, a tracking website, and Amtrak has halted train service in the Midwest and South. Forecasters have warned that ice could soon make travel impossible in Missouri Bootheel, the most southeastern part of the state, and that up to an inch of ice could form in Memphis, where the fall of Trees and power outages loomed as a possibility. Other areas of Tennessee have prepared for the possibility of flooding.

“Any ice here is rare and could cause glazing and road issues,” said Faith Borden, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Nashville. “We are not used to that here. That could be a problem.”

Around Dallas and Oklahoma City, some schools had canceled classes Thursday and Friday. In New Mexico, some schools and courts closed on Wednesday. And in Arkansas, residents filled grocery stores for supplies as the governor activated the National Guard, and officials warned the ice could topple trees and power lines.

“As far as ice goes, it’s just a completely different animal,” Arkansas Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Parker told local reporters.

In southwestern Ohio, where meteorologists warned of a prolonged transition from rain to snow followed by gusty winds, residents were bracing for the worst. In New Lebanon, Ohio, Carla Edgington, 60, filled her grocery cart with essentials like cereal and potatoes.

“I want things you can eat in the event of a power outage,” said Ms Edgington, who feared the ice would bring down power lines.

In Texas, where snow was piling up in the Panhandle and sleet and freezing rain were already falling southeast 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 snowfall in West Texas and heavy icing around Dallas, the prospect of above-freezing weather by the weekend has dampened some fears.

“It’s really the duration that is not comparable to last year,” said William Iwasko, a Meteorological Service meteorologist. “We had these freezing temperatures for over a week.”

In the Midwest, where harsh winter conditions are more common, problems continued to worsen. Semi-trucks and other large vehicles were banned from the Ohio Turnpike until noon Friday. In Missouri, a crash on Interstate 70 at Columbia stalled westbound traffic for some time. And in Illinois, blowing snow limited visibility to a quarter mile or less in some areas.

“It’s not worth the risk of attempting to travel in these conditions,” the city of Peoria, Ill., said on Twitter. “When you get stuck, you put yourself in danger, you risk waiting for a tow, and you prevent plows and emergency vehicles from doing their job.”

In eastern Kansas, Mark Nelson said he welcomed the snowfall as much-needed moisture for the dry soils and depleted ponds on his farm. But he was watching his cattle closely, especially since dozens of them were due to give birth in the coming days. Mr Nelson checked the animals several times overnight and was carrying the litter to his snowy pasture on Wednesday morning.

“If you can shield them from the direct wind and they have something to eat, they’ll be fine,” Nelson said.

Reporting was provided by Eric Berger in St. Louis, Ben Fenwick in Oklahoma City, Carey Gillam in Overland Park, Kan., Lucinda Holt in Lubbock, Texas, Amy Lynch in Indianapolis, Jamie McGee in Nashville, Daniel McGraw in Cleveland, Simon Romero in Albuquerque, Bret Schulte in Fayetteville, Ark., Marina Trahan Martinez in Dallas and Kevin Williams in New Lebanon, Ohio. Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jesus Jiménez and Azi Paybarah also contributed to the report.

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