A major snowstorm rolling slowly through the nation's midsection has stymied Friday morning commuters and other travelers with knee-deep snow, slick roads, disrupted air traffic and reduced visibility from wind-driven snow.
The storm is expected to weaken somewhat Friday as it slides east, forecasters said. Mainly morning snow of about 3-5 inches is expected around the western Great Lakes, Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Dolce reported, with cities such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Detroit seeing the greatest impact.
Farther to the south, freezing rain and sleet is likely in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where up to 1/4 of an inch of ice could accumulate. Along the Gulf Coast, severe storms are possible in far southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
A new storm could form Saturday along the East Coast from the remnants of the winter storm, bringing significant snow from upstate New York to southern New England, Dolce said.
Hardest hit already by the storm were Nashville, Kan., buried under 18 inches of snow, and Northern Oklahoma, with 13 inches, and Kansas city, Mo., with 10 inches.
In southern Wisconsin, drivers faced extra hazard Friday morning from wind gusts of 30 mph that threatened to churn-up overnight snow.
All flights at Kansas City International Airport were canceled for Thursday night, and officials said they'd prepare to reopen Friday morning. On the other side of the state in St. Louis, more than 320 flights at Lambert Airport were canceled.
Areas in the Texas Panhandle also had up to 8 inches of snow, and in south central Nebraska, Grand Island reported 10 inches of snow. Arkansas saw a mix of precipitation - a combination of hail, sleet and freezing rain in some place, 6 inches of snow in others.
Transportation officials in the hardest-hit areas urged people to stay home.
"If you don't have to get out, just really, please, don't do it," Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said. Interstate 70 through Kansas was snow-packed, and a 200-mile stretch between Salina and Colby was closed. The Kansas National Guard had 12 teams patrolling three state highways in Humvees to rescue motorists stranded by the storm.
Heavy, blowing snow also caused scores of businesses in Iowa and Nebraska to close early, including two malls in Omaha, Neb. Mardi Miller, manager of Dillard's department store in Oakview Mall, said most employees were gone by 4 p.m., with "only two customers are in the entire store."
The storm, however, brought some relief to a region that has been dealing with its worst drought in decades.
Vance Ehmke, a wheat farmer near Healy, Kan., said the nearly foot of snow was "what we have been praying for." Climatologists say 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.
Near Edwardsville in Illinois, farmer Mike Campbell called the precipitation a blessing after a bone-dry growing season in 2012. He hopes it is a good omen for the spring, noting that last year, "the corn was just a disaster."
Contributing: Associated Press