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Snow, sleet and commuter chaos as winter storm pounds Northeast

4:16

Snow, sleet and freezing rain posed a hazard for motorists in New England Sunday as a strong storm that moved from the Midwest to the Northeast pelted the region with heavy snow, hampering travel plans for weekend shoppers and potentially for Monday commuters.

Nearly a foot of snow was reported in parts of central Pennsylvania late Saturday as the sprawling storm moved eastward into New England, where the National Weather Service warned Maine could see near-blizzard conditions Sunday due to heavy snow and strong winds before the storm moves out.

By Sunday afternoon, 17 inches of snow had accumulated on the southern coast of Maine, while northern Massachusetts got 11 inches and up to 8 inches fell in parts of Rhode Island, according to the National Weather Service.

A heavy snow falls on the tree covered mountains in Lake Placid, New York, Dec. 15, 2013. CJ Gunther / EPA

Five inches of snow fell in New York City’s Central Park Saturday while parts of Connecticut, New York and northern New Jersey got seven inches, the National Weather Service said.

The New York City Department of sanitation said they had crews plowing all night Saturday into Sunday and urged residents to scrape and salt their sidewalks by late Sunday morning.

Sun and temperatures in the 40s on Sunday would likely melt the buildup, but low temperatures overnight into Monday would refreeze the runoff, making for slick conditions Monday morning, according to NBC New York meteorologists. Another blast of snow or rain is predicted in New York again on Tuesday, creating more ice on the sidewalks and roads. 

Among the highest snow totals reported was in Union, Conn., which received 9.5 inches, meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan told NBC Connecticut.

Hanrahan said roads in Connecticut were especially slick Sunday morning due to freezing rain overnight, but 632 state trucks were dedicated to clean-up, according to Connecticut’s Department of Transportation.

Roads could remain slick during the Monday morning commute since the saltwater solution crews rely on would simply freeze, according to Kevin Nursick, spokesman at the state DOT.

Metro-North railroad said on its website it may reduce or suspend service from Connecticut to New York to avoid complications from frozen brakes, switches and signals, leaving commuters with few options Monday morning.

While most of the areas that got hit by heavy snowfalls on Saturday got a break on Sunday and a chance to thaw out, “one last punch” was due in northern New England as the system moves toward eastern Canada by evening, according to the National Weather Service.

Six to 12 inches of further snow were expected in parts of Massachusetts Sunday, followed by sleet and freezing rain after daybreak, The Associated Press reported. Four to 8 inches were possible in Boston.

Thirteen inches of snow fell in the Mount Sunapee ski area in Newbury, N.H. by Sunday morning, leading to an influx of excited skiers, according to the AP.

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But great winter sport conditions bring travel woes. Multiple accidents were reported on roadways throughout the Midwest and Northeast Saturday due to the third round of wintry weather in a seven-day span, with a week still to go before winter's official arrival.

Authorities cautioned drivers in Massachusetts to travel only if necessary on Sunday and said those drivers should leave plenty of space between vehicles and drive well below the speed limit, according to The Weather Channel.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol confirmed three fatalities attributed to the recent winter weather. It said a 79-year-old woman from St. Louis County died in a crash on Friday night, in which a 28-year-old was also seriously injured. An 80-year-old man from Henry County died when his car slid into a tree Saturday morning, and a 44-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene of an accident caused by traffic incurred by another accident in Lawrence County on Friday afternoon.

Bob Agnew uses a snow-blower to clear snow from his driveway in Norfolk, Massachusetts on Sunday, Dec. 15 as rapidly falling temperatures begin to freeze the wet snow. Matt Campbell / EPA

Michigan State Police were investigating a fatal weather-related crash, in which the driver lost control and struck the median on a highway early Saturday morning, according to Lt. Michael A. Shaw.

A newlywed was killed when he left his new wife in their vehicle to help a woman whose car slid in the snow and off a road in Indiana. The good Samaritan and the woman he was helping were standing on the side of the road when three cars crashed into them in the icy conditions, killing them both, according to NBC Chicago.

A Pennsylvania ambulance narrowly avoided a disaster on Friday morning, NBC Philadelphia reported, when a chunk of ice struck and cracked its windshield.

Air travel was also affected as airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights on Saturday, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks commercial airlines. An additional 2,653 flights were delayed, it said.

Over 360 flights had been canceled in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport alone on Saturday. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport canceled more than 180 flights.

On Sunday, flight cancellations breached the 300s by the morning, according to FlightAware.

Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, told the Associated Press that many consumers will likely shop for holiday gifts online rather than brave the difficult conditions.

Still, some shoppers in Massachusetts remained determined despite the warning of extreme weather. "It's the season so you gotta come out and do your shopping. It's only a few flurries so it didn't bother me," holiday shopper Nathan Foss told NBC affiliate WHDH.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.