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Thousands of flights canceled as major winter storm hits Central U.S.

A woman walks her dog on a snow-covered street
A woman walks her dog after a winter storm dumped heavy snow on Boulder, Colo., on Feb. 2, 2022.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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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 thousands of flights, officials 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.

By midday Wednesday, some places had already reported snow totals exceeding or nearing a foot, including the central Illinois town of Lewistown with 14.4 inches and the northeastern Missouri city of Hannibal with 11.5 inches.

“And it’s still snowing across these areas,” said Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Md.

Central Illinois and northern Indiana appeared likely to receive the most snowfall, with expected totals ranging from 12 to 18 inches by the end of Thursday, Orrison said.

Snow had begun to taper off in Missouri by early afternoon, but much of the state could wind up with 8 inches to a foot of snow. Parts of Michigan also could see snow totals around a foot by Thursday.

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The blast of frigid weather, which began arriving Tuesday night, hit a long stretch of states, from New Mexico and Colorado to Maine.

In Chicago, Elisha Waldman and his sons welcomed the opportunity to hit a sledding hill Wednesday morning, as snow was falling 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.

In Detroit’s western suburbs, Tony Haley also found an advantage to the weather. He owns a landscaping and irrigation company that offers snow removal and salting services, but the early winter weeks offered few opportunities for business.

“This one here, we’re looking for a good two, three days of work,” Haley said after clearing snow away from several businesses in Canton.

But for those on the roads, the heavy snow created hazards.

“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 midday after a crash made the roadway impassable.

Gusty winds and falling temperatures hit the East Coast as people dig out from a nor’easter that dumped snow, flooded coastlines and knocked out power.

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, Ky., to Memphis, Tenn.

“If everything holds to where it is right now, this is the real deal,” said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who ordered state government offices to close on Thursday. “It is dangerous. People need to be prepared.”

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.

Scientists say measuring climate change by temperature alone doesn’t accurately reflect how bad global warming really is getting.

The storm’s path extended as far south as Texas, nearly a year after a catastrophic freeze buckled the state’s power grid in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history. The forecast does not call for the same prolonged and frigid temperatures as the February 2021 storm, and the National Weather Service said the approaching system would not be as bad this time for Texas.

No large-scale power outages were reported by early afternoon Wednesday in Texas or elsewhere, according to poweroutage.us.

Snowfall totals reached 22 inches in Colorado Springs and up to 10 inches in the Denver metropolitan area, with more accumulation expected, prompting universities, state government offices and the Legislature to shut down.

Airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday, the flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed. Airports in St. Louis, 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.

National Weather Service forecasters in Little Rock, Ark., 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!”

Foody reported from Chicago and Bleed reported from Little Rock. Associated Press writers John O’Connor in Springfield, Ill.; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Margery Beck in Omaha; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; James Anderson in Denver; Teresa Crawford in Chicago; Mike Householder in Canton, Mich.; Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Ky.; and Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Ga., contributed to this report.

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