A strong storm pelted the Midwest and Northeast with heavy snow on Saturday, with some areas already seeing a foot on the ground and forecasts predicting that up to 20 states and 70 million people will feel its polar conditions through the weekend.
The National Weather Service forecast “a wintry mix of precipitation” including snow, sleet and freezing rain flowing from the Midwest into the Northeast this weekend.
Parts of New England could see up to a foot by the time the front pulls out early Sunday and ushers in high winds that could be a hazard of their own. Up to 14 inches could fall in coastal towns in Maine.
By late morning Saturday, the winter storm was producing snow over parts of Illinois, Indiana, Northern Ohio, with portions of West-Central Indiana already seeing 11 inches of snowfall, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Christopher Dolce. Areas west of St. Louis were forecast to see 6 to 7 inches and the Chicago area was looking at 2 to 4 inches.
“Eventually that snow is going to end by this evening and the snow will pick up in the Northeast as the afternoon goes on,” Dolce said.
New York City had also seen an “initial burst” of snowfall with heavier levels predicted throughout the region into the afternoon and evening, Dolce said. On Saturday night that snow would change to sleet, followed by freezing rain, he said.
The “quick-hitter” storm, Dolce said, would stretch as far as Maine by Sunday.
Dolce said interstate travel could be affected, with interstate roads in Illinois, Indiana and parts of Missouri “snow packed.”
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“Until those are plowed away there’s going to be some rough travel,” he said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol has confirmed three fatalities attributed to the recent winter weather. The agency said a 79-year-old woman from St. Louis County died in a crash on Friday night and an 80-year-old man from Henry County died when his car slid into a tree Saturday morning. Details of the third incident were not immediately available.
Air travel was also affected as airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights on Saturday, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks commercial airlines. There were an additional 2,653 flight delays, 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.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced that a Traffic Management Program was in effect in several airports due to snow and ice, causing delays. At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, weather was causing some arrival flights to be delayed an average of one hour and four minutes, the FAA said, and arriving flights at Chicago’s O’Hare airport were delayed an average of 52 minutes.
The storm could also impact commerce, Dolce, said with the snow stopping some holiday shoppers in their tracks.
Matt Nighswander / NBC News
Snow falls on skaters Saturday morning in New York's Rockefeller Center.
Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, told the Associated Press that many consumers will likely shop online rather than brave the difficult conditions.
Winter storm warnings were in effect Saturday for parts of Northern and Eastern New York, near Albany, Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, a considerable portion of both Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as essentially all of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Winter storm advisories were in effect for pars of Michigan, Indiana, Cleveland and New York City.
The snow is adding to already blustery conditions in much of the Northeast.
A Pennsylvania ambulance narrowly avoided a disaster on Friday morning, NBC Philadelphia reported, when a chunk of ice struck and cracked its windshield.
The Central Bucks Ambulance and Rescue Unit was transporting a patient northbound on York Road in Buckingham around 11:37 a.m. when a tree-trimming truck covered in snow passed the ambulance heading southbound, sending “substantial” chunks of ice flying towards the ambulance.
Central Bucks Ambulance and Rescue
An ambulance in Buckingham, Pa., was struck by a chunk of ice while transporting a patient.
"It was scary," said Scott Henley, deputy chief paramedic who was driving the ambulance, told NBC Philadelphia. "Luckily I saw it coming and I was able to at least have a couple seconds to figure something out."
The damage forced Henley to pull the unit over and wait for a second ambulance to arrive to continue the transport.
"Luckily the patient wasn't in any severe distress," he said.
The accident came just days after the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission issued a reminder to drivers to clear snow and ice from their cars, NBC Philadelphia reported.
Parts of Central Pennsylvania up through much of New York State upstate could see from 5 to 12 inches of snow.
Northern and Western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine could see anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of snow.
Urban areas could see several inches of snow, according to the Weather Channel. Philadelphia was forecast to receive 1 to 3 inches; St. Louis, Indianapolis, and New York City were forecast to see 3 to 5 inches and Boston was in for 5 to 8 inches.
Dolce said most states should see some relief from the wintry blast by the weekend’s end, with the remnants of system lingering in Maine through Sunday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Nam Y. Huh / AP
A woman carries her luggage on the sidewalk on Saturday in Evanston, Ill.
First published December 14 2013, 8:22 PM