Huge Snowstorm Heads East After Pummeling Plains

The remnants of a huge winter storm plowed toward the East Coast on Sunday after dumping as much as 2 feet of snow in the Upper Midwest, grounding hundreds of airline flights and closing major highways on the Plains.

Eight traffic deaths were blamed on the storm, seven in Wisconsin and one in Kansas.

Utility crews labored Sunday to restore power after the storm blacked out hundreds of thousands of homes and business in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio. Street and highway crews — nearly 300 snow removal trucks and plows in Chicago — worked to clear pavement of snow and ice.

Moist air the storm system pulled from the Gulf of Mexico fueled violent thunderstorms in the South, sweeping cars off roads, crumpling businesses and sending mobile homes flying. Tornadoes were reported in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

By midday Sunday, snow was dwindling but still falling from the eastern Dakotas across the Great Lakes to the Washington area.

As the system stretched eastward, a dwindling band of snow extended from the eastern Dakotas across the Great Lakes to the East Coast. Three inches of snow had fallen by midday Sunday at Cumberland, Md., and the District of Columbia declared a snow emergency, banning parking on major routes to make room for snow plows.

Three to 4 inches of snow was expected in the Washington area and motorists in the region were warned the snow could turn to ice during the night.

Roads were treacherous Sunday across parts of Michigan, causing accidents and snarling traffic. "It's extremely icy," said state Trooper Bronse Gavin in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park.

The storm's snow, sleet and freezing rain led airlines to cancel 200 flights Sunday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and about 35 at Midway Airport, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. That was on top of more cancellations on Saturday, and Abrams estimated that about 1,000 stranded passengers spent the night at O'Hare.

Utilities in Iowa reported more than 162,000 customers without electricity Sunday, most because heavy ice had brought down miles of power lines and utility poles.

"It could be at least three days if not more than one week before we get all the customers back on," Alliant Energy spokesman Ryan Stensland said of conditions in Iowa. "We've got close to 2,500 poles down — over 500 miles of line down."

More than 83,000 customers were without power Sunday morning in Illinois, utilities said. Crews for Mid American Energy reported ice 2 inches thick coating power lines in Illinois' Mercer County, said spokesman Allan Urlis.

On the Plains, Colorado and Kansas on Sunday reopened Interstate 70, a major cross-country route. The highway had been closed for about 400 miles in both directions since Saturday from just east of Denver to Salina, Kan., because of blowing snow and slippery pavement.

The National Weather Service reported 7-foot snowdrifts in western Kansas.

As much as 2 feet of snow fell around Winona, Minn., and some local hotels were so full of stalled travelers they had to turn people away. The Holiday Inn let people sleep on couches, cots and even the floor, exhausting its supply of extra blankets and pillows.

"We just tried to fit people in as much as we could," hotel employee Chrissy Rybarczyk told the Winona Daily News.