A winter storm battered states from the Plains through the Midwest on Wednesday, sending travelers slipping and sliding over icy roads, dumping a foot of snow over some areas and pushing temperatures to bitter-cold levels.
What may guarantee a white Christmas for some was a pre-Christmas nightmare for others.
"There's snow on the highway and people are sliding off the highways, rolling over, and 18-wheelers are jackknifing," said a Texas Department of Public Safety operator in Abilene who counted 17 accidents by 8 a.m. in an eight-county area in West Texas. "People don't know to stay home."
Snow — or an icy mix of snow and sleet — fell from New Mexico, where some schools were closed, to the lower Great Lakes (search). The storm marked the leading edge of bitterly cold air flowing southward.
Highs only in the teens were forecast Wednesday in the northern Texas Panhandle, where wind chills Thursday could be as low as 15 below zero, the National Weather Service (search) said.
At the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, several flights were canceled and others were delayed up to two hours on average as workers deiced about 200 planes an hour, airport spokesman Ken Capps said. In Ohio, airport delays were blamed mostly on planes arriving from other storm-battered locations.
Forecasters predicted 10 inches of snow or more in areas of western Ohio, including as much as 20 inches in Cincinnati and Dayton.
There were at least six weather-related traffic deaths: three in Ohio and one each in New Mexico, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Nine people were hurt, none seriously, in a series of accidents on a snowy interstate in Wyoming just north of the Colorado state line. In Tennessee, a hiker who collapsed along the snow-covered Appalachian Trail (search) was rescued; he'd called for help from his cell phone Tuesday.
The bad weather prompted some to step up travel plans to avoid worse problems closer to Christmas. "I'm leaving a day earlier than I planned, and I'm afraid I still may not make it," said Greyhound bus traveler Susie Brown, 32, of Cincinnati.
In Louisville, Ky., ditches were littered with vehicles that slid off icy roads.
"Right now we have ice on the bottom and snow on the top," said Linda Utley, an employee at a truck stop along the Pennyrile Parkway in western Kentucky.
The precipitation started as rain through Kentucky then turned to snow as temperatures dropped; the heaviest snowfall was expected in western and north-central Kentucky, where accumulations could reach a foot after another round of snow Thursday night, forecasters said.
An inch of ice was forecast to blanket western Kentucky. "We're looking for a terrible ice storm overnight," said Robin Smith, a meteorologist in Paducah, Ky.
Parts of Arkansas looked forward to only the ninth white Christmas in 120 years as the storm barreled across the state, closing businesses, shuttering restaurants and snarling traffic.
An interstate in eastern Oklahoma near Checotah was closed for about an hour Wednesday after ice formed on a hill and vehicles couldn't negotiate the stretch of road, which links Oklahoma to Arkansas.
In Lawton, Okla., a tractor-trailer hauling goats overturned on an interstate bridge, state police reported. Many of the animals were trapped in the trailer and died; some escaped and a couple apparently jumped off the 40-foot bridge and survived.
More than 10 inches of snow in parts of Indiana snarled travel there; more was expected along with cold temperatures.
Portions of Missouri dug out Wednesday from one snow storm — and readied for the next.
"The first full day of winter was a doozy, and it's not done yet," said Dan Spaeth, another meteorologist in Paducah, Ky. "We're looking at potentially another half foot of snow this evening in pretty much all of southeast Missouri. We're gonna have a white Christmas — if we can move."
Where it wasn't snowing or sleeting, it was just plain cold.
In International Falls, Minn., the temperature dropped steadily from about zero to 26 below. In Havre, Mont., the wind chill reading was 13 below not long after the lunch hour.
The forecast high for Denver on Thursday was just 6 degrees; the usual is 43.
Ralph Kwiatkoski woke up to temperatures of minus-5 in the mountain town of Gunnison, Colo.
"The sun's out. It's quite nice," he said. "For people who live here, we like it. We don't get hail, tornadoes, floods. We've got it good."