A powerful winter storm system pounded the nation's midsection Wednesday and headed toward the Northeast, where people braced for the high winds and heavy snow that disrupted holiday travel, knocked out power to thousands of homes and were blamed in at least six deaths.
Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued amid snowy gusts of 30 mph that blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.
“The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex,” said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.
The system, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and headed toward the Northeast. Forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow inland from western New York to Maine.
The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida could see severe thunderstorms.
Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were implored to avoid it. The day after a holiday wasn't expected to be particularly busy for AAA, but its Cincinnati-area branch had its busiest Wednesday of the year. By midafternoon, nearly 400 members had been helped with tows, jump starts and other aid, with calls still coming in, spokesman Mike Mills said.
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