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Winter storm grounds 2 600 US flights

06 March 2013, 10:00

Chicago - A massive winter storm pounding the northern United States on Tuesday grounded 2 600 flights, closed hundreds of schools and made roadways and highways impassable.

At least four people were reportedly killed in accidents on icy and snow covered roads and highways.

More than a dozen states from Minnesota to Virginia were in the path of the huge storm, which had already dumped as much as 60cm of snow in Montana and 38cm in North Dakota.

The heavily populated Chicago area was expected to get as much as 2.5cm of snow an hour during the evening rush, the National Weather Service said.

Hundreds of ploughs were working the Windy City's roads and freeways, but with up to 30cm of snow expected, there was no way they could keep up.

"Consider only travelling if in an emergency," the weather service warned.

Congressional meetings called off

Eric Jacobson wasn't able to keep up with the snow on his Chicago walkway, but was doing his best to clear it for his neighbours before they came home from work on Tuesday evening.

"It's pretty rugged and pretty intense," he said.

The snow was so thick and heavy that a woman down the street used a broom to clear off her car.

Nearly 900 flights were grounded at Chicago's O'Hare airport - a major hub - while another 260 were cancelled at Chicago Midway on Tuesday. Over 100 flights were cancelled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which helped push the day's total to 1 465, according to FlightAware.

Another 1 162 flights scheduled for Wednesday had already been cancelled, mainly in the Washington area.

The storm was expected to hit the nation's capital late on Tuesday or early on Wednesday, and some Congressional meetings were already being called off.

Slushy mix of rain and snow

A key vote to keep the federal government funded despite a budget impasse could not be cancelled, however, and was instead rescheduled in hopes of wrapping up work early at the House of Representatives to miss the worst of the weather.

"We think the system will develop into a more powerful storm as it passes into the mid Atlantic states," Dan Petersen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said.

"This could be a heavy, wet snow, so there could be tree branches and power lines brought down."

The storm will merge with a second system over the Appalachians on Tuesday night and also pull moisture off the Atlantic.

Washington will get a slushy mix of rain and about 10 to 20cm of snow, which could create gridlock if it ends up hitting during the evening or morning commutes.

"People forget their winter weather driving skills," Petersen, who works at the weather service headquarters in Washington, said.

Truck driver killed

"We've had people get frustrated and just leave their cars on the road, creating an obstacle."

But even those with plenty of experience navigating winter weather got into trouble.

A local news channel in Wisconsin reported a truck driver was killed, and his passenger is still missing, after his rig slipped off a Wisconsin highway into a river.

And two people were killed in rural Illinois and another in rural Indiana in crashes, an Indiana newspaper reported.



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