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A powerful winter storm that buried the US Plains and left at least three people dead moved on Tuesday into the southern Great Lakes region, where it snarled the evening commute in Chicago and Milwaukee, created near-whiteout conditions and forced hundreds of flight cancellations.
Much of the region was under either a winter storm warning or a winter weather advisory, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), as the system's potent blend of wet snow, sleet and strong winds bore down on north-central Illinois, southern Wisconsin and northern Indiana and Ohio.
The most intense snowfall and greatest accumulations were expected through Tuesday night, the NWS said. With winds gusting up to 35 mph (56 kph), near-whiteout conditions were reported in some rural areas, the agency said.
More than 500 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway airports alone, according to the Chicago department of aviation. Those flights that managed to take off or land faced delays of up to an hour.
The Illinois Tollway agency, which maintains nearly 300 miles (480 km) of highway around Chicago, deployed its fleet of more than 180 snowplows to keep the roads clear.
As the afternoon rush hour began in Chicago, blowing snow reduced visibility and created treacherous driving conditions, doubling average travel times in and out of the city on major expressways, according to Traffic.com.
The Wisconsin department of transportation warned that much of Interstate 94 between the Illinois state-line and Milwaukee was covered with ice.
In Chicago, the city's public school system, the third-largest school district in the country, canceled all after-school sporting events, including six state regional basketball games.
The snowstorm may have discouraged some voters in Chicago and its suburbs from voting in a special election primary to replace indicted Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned the seat in November citing health concerns.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service said the storm would continue to move eastward, dumping 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 cm) of wet snow on Detroit overnight and into Wednesday morning.
It is then expected to move slowly into the Northeast, largely avoiding the cities of New York, Boston and Washington, DC, but bringing snow to parts of New York state, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, said Brian Korty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"It's going to linger for a long time over portions of the Northeast," Korty said.
Parts of New York and Pennsylvania could get a "sloppy mix" of snow, ice and rain. Already, ice accumulations were causing sporadic power outages across higher terrains of western Maryland, eastern West Virginia and far western Virginia, said Erik Pindrock, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.
"It's a very multi-faceted storm," Pindrock said. "It's a whole potpourri of wintry weather."
In Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, where the storm hit earlier, residents were digging out.
Highways in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of Kansas remained closed because of heavy and drifting snow.
Amarillo, Texas, saw 19 inches (48 cm) of snow Sunday night into Monday, the third-largest snowfall ever in that city, Pindrock said.
The storm contributed to at least three deaths, two in Kansas and one in Oklahoma.
A woman died and three passengers were injured Monday night on Interstate 70 when their pickup truck rolled off the icy roadway in Ellis County, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said. Earlier on Monday, a man was killed when his car veered off the interstate in Sherman County near the Colorado border, he said.
"We urge everyone to avoid travel and be extremely cautious if you must be on the roads," said Ernest Garcia, superintendent of the Kansas highway patrol.
In northern Oklahoma, one person died when the roof of a home partially collapsed in the city of Woodward, said Matt Lehenbauer, the city's emergency management director.
"We have roofs collapsing all over town," said Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill Jr. "We really have a mess on our hands."
Kansas City was also hard hit by the storm, which left snowfalls of 7 to 13 inches (18 to 33 cm) in the metro region on Tuesday, said Chris Bowman, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Another 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) is forecast for Tuesday evening and nearly two-thirds of the flights at Kansas City International Airport Tuesday afternoon were canceled.
In addition to the winter storm, National Weather Service forecasters on Tuesday issued tornado watches across central Florida and up the eastern coast to South Carolina.
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