A major winter storm with millions of Americans in its path brought a mix of rain, freezing rain and snow to the central U.S. on Wednesday as airlines canceled hundreds of flights, governors urged residents to stay off roads and schools closed campuses.
The blast of frigid weather, which began arriving Tuesday night, put a long stretch of states from New Mexico and Colorado to Maine under winter storm warnings and watches. On Wednesday morning, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan saw freezing rain, sleet and snow.
More than a foot of snow was expected in parts of central Missouri and Michigan, and up to a foot of snow could fall Wednesday and Thursday in central and northeastern Illinois. Twelve to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) of snow was possible in areas of northern Indiana, said Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
“For a lot of areas, we are going to be looking at significant amounts of snowfall and also ice,” he said.
In Chicago, Elisha Waldman and his sons welcomed the opportunity to hit a sledding hill on Wednesday morning even as snow continued to fall over the city.
“Cold and wet and wonderful, and getting cold and wet is part of the fun with the guys, and we get to go inside and have hot cocoa and warm up,” Waldman said.
Heavy snow Wednesday morning created hazardous travel conditions in some areas.
“We’re receiving a lot of snow over here in northwest Indiana and it’s the wet, slushy snow that causes treacherous driving conditions to say the least,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield told WFLD-TV.
In central Missouri, officials shut down part of Interstate 70.
Areas south of the heavy snow were expected to see freezing rain, with the heaviest ice predicted along the lower Ohio Valley area from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee.
The disruptive storm moved across the central U.S. on Groundhog Day, the same day the famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. The storm came on the heels of a vicious nor’easter last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.
The storm’s path extended as far south as Texas, where nearly a year after a catastrophic freeze buckled the state’s power grid in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott defended the state’s readiness. The forecast did not call for the same prolonged and frigid temperatures as the February 2021 storm, and the National Weather Service said the system would, generally, not be as bad this time for Texas.
“No one can guarantee that there won’t be any” outages caused by demand on the power grid, Abbott said Tuesday. “But what we will work to achieve, and what we’re prepared to achieve is that power is going to stay on across the entire state.”
No large-scale power outages were reported by early afternoon Wednesday in Texas or elsewhere, according to poweroutage.us.
Snowfall totals reached 22 inches (56 centimeters) in Colorado Springs and up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in the Denver area, with more expected, prompting universities, state government offices and the Legislature to shut down.
Airlines canceled more than 1,800 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Wednesday, the flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed, including more than three-quarters taken off the board in St. Louis. Airports in Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit canceled more flights than usual and more than 130 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport.
In an effort to stay ahead of the weather, Southwest Airlines announced Tuesday that it would suspend all of its flight operations Wednesday at St. Louis Lambert International Airport and Thursday at its Dallas Love Field hub.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency as school districts and universities shifted classes to online or canceled them entirely.
Illinois lawmakers canceled their three scheduled days of session this week. In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a statewide state of emergency that would remain in effect for seven days.
National Weather Service forecasters in Little Rock put their own spin on the Groundhog Day tradition with a photo of their office cat, Tarmac, and the caption: “SHADOWS EVERYWHERE! THE WINTER STORM IS HAPPENING!”