The first major snowstorm of the season blew across the Plains and Midwest on Thursday, grounding hundreds of flights, closing schools, glazing highways and threatening to dump as much as a foot of snow on communities that had basked in balmy weather only days earlier.
The wintry weather spread across an area stretching from Texas and Oklahoma to Michigan, and a blizzard warning was posted in parts of Oklahoma.
Clay Ender, who works for a heating service company, struggled to get around in the 3 inches of snow that fell overnight in Lubbock, Texas. A trip across the city that usually takes 20 minutes stretched to an hour, he said.
"There were so many cars spinning out of control," he said. "They couldn't get any traction."
The system roared through the Northwest and Rockies earlier in the week. Coming on the heels of near-record high temperatures, it rolled through Kansas on Wednesday, coating tree limbs and power lines with half an inch of ice. By Thursday, the storm was moving northeast from Oklahoma on the way to Illinois. It could reach the Northeast this weekend.
Sleet, snow and freezing rain forced the cancellation of 250 flights out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Some schools were closed. In the Texas Panhandle, roads were covered with ice and as much as 7 inches of snow.
At Chicago's O'Hare Airport, at least 265 flights scheduled for Friday morning were canceled. By Thursday afternoon, all but two departing flights from Lambert Airport in St. Louis had been canceled for the rest of the day.
Northern Oklahoma expected to receive 8 to 12 inches of snow, with wind gusts of as much as 40 mph creating drifts as high as 2 feet. Parts of Illinois prepared for 6 to 12 inches. Varying amounts also were forecast for Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
An Oklahoma man was killed Thursday when his vehicle skidded out of control on an icy road and hit an oncoming semitrailer truck, police said.
In Tulsa, Okla., customers descended on hardware and convenience stores for supplies with 6 inches of snow in the forecast.
"It's shovels, ice melts and sleds, and forget the rest," said John Swinney, manager at Swinney's Hardware. "It's about the biggest one that's hit here in a long time."
In Springfield, Mo., freezing rain and sleet knocked out power to 15,000 customers, and the forecast called for snow and high winds.
In Chicago, 270 salt spreaders stood ready to hit the roads.
"It looks like it's going to get messy," said Tim Halbach, a meteorologist in the suburb of Romeoville.