BOSTON – A wind-blown brew of snow, sleet and freezing rain cut visibility and iced over highways from the Great Lakes to New England on Sunday, stranding air and road travelers and causing a jetliner to skid off a runway.
At least three traffic deaths have been blamed on the storm.
The National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings from Michigan and Indiana all the way to Maine. Around a foot of snow had fallen on parts of the Chicago area, with 10 inches in Vermont. Meteorologists said that 18 inches was possible in northern New England; more snow was still expected in parts of Michigan.
"Our biggest advice right now is, stay home," said Maine State Police Sgt. Andrew Donovan. Visibility in the blowing snow was less than 200 yards, and in stronger gusts "if there's a car in front of you, you can't even see it," he said.
In Rhode Island, a U.S. Airways Express Flight from Philadelphia carrying 31 passengers and three crew members slid off the runway as it tried to land at T.F. Green Airport, which got nearly 8 inches of snow, the Providence Journal reported on its Web site. No injuries were reported, but the airport had to close its runways for about 2 1/2 hours, spokespeople told the newspaper.
By late afternoon Sunday, AAA Michigan had helped more than 3,000 motorists, most of whom had spun out, gotten stuck in a ditch or couldn't start their vehicles, spokeswoman Nancy Cain said.
Every available plow truck was at work in Vermont, said Reggie Brown, highway department dispatcher in Montpelier. "Everybody's out and running," he said.
Snow depths in some places were uncertain. "They can't tell how much because it's blowing so hard," Brown said.
"I don't mind an inch or two, but this is too much," said Larry Thelen in Ann Arbor, Mich., which got 10.5 inches of snow.
The storm canceled hundreds of flights at airports in Chicago and about 300 flights at Boston's busy Logan International Airport. Flights were also canceled at airports in Portland, Maine; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Manchester, N.H. Few major problems were reported at airports in Philadelphia and New York.
Many churches called off Sunday services because of the hazardous driving conditions.
"I don't want folks to venture out because we're having church and they feel obligated," the Rev. Glenn Mortimer said after calling off services at Wakefield-Lynnfield United Methodist Church in Wakefield, Mass. He noted that some people still hadn't completely dug out from a storm Thursday that dumped more than a foot of snow on parts of Massachusetts.
The storm didn't keep fans away from the New England Patriots vs. New York Jets game at Foxborough, Mass., but they had to shovel off their seats in the stadium. A video of a fire roaring in a fireplace was shown on the scoreboards at both ends of the field.
At Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., strong winds collapsed a fabric dome used for hospitality events before and after games. No one was inside or hurt when the structure fell Sunday morning.
The storm didn't stand in the way of dedicated Christmas shoppers.
"The reason we came out in the storm early, early, is that we knew there would be no lines," Michael McGrath, 48, of Boston, said as he stomped along partly shoveled downtown sidewalks. "It was true. The stores were empty."
Betty Gould and Rocky Castellano drove about 20 miles from Pittsfield, N.H., to Steeplegate Mall in Concord, N.H. Asked whether she considered staying home, Gould said: "Never."
"We like the snow," Gould said. "He thinks he's invincible. He has four-wheel drive, studded tires, the whole bit."
Slippery roads were blamed for two traffic deaths in Michigan and one in Wisconsin.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said the storm at one point blacked out 160,000 customers Sunday, although service had been restored to thousands by Sunday evening. Scattered power failures also were reported in Vermont, state officials said.
The storm came less than a week after an ice storm blamed for at least 38 deaths, mostly in traffic accidents, in the middle of the country. Thousands of homes and businesses still had no electricity in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.