Communities from Midwest to East Coast were hit by the first snowstorm of the season Thursday, causing flight delays, slowing down commuters and contributing to at least seven deaths. Forecasters say winter conditions should end for most areas by Friday.
From St. Louis to the South and into the Northeast, snow, freezing rain, and in some parts, sleet, made driving tricky and closed schools.
In New York, the wet snowfall and wind gusts Thursday downed numerous tree branches. Police advised people to stay indoors and avoid the roads. Commuters also were advised to avoid the Port Authority Bus Terminal — which is also used by many to travel to New Jersey — due to overcrowding. The poor weather made it difficult for buses to reach the terminal, officials said. And a multi-vehicle accident on the George Washington Bridge added to the traffic nightmare.
There were scattered delays on the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit reported 30-minute delays system wide.
More than 4,600 flights were delayed and hundreds cancelled by the storm affecting travelers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. Some airports in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts also experienced delays and cancellations.
Forecasters said the snow should turn to mostly sleet and rain before changing to rain overnight.
As much as 8 inches of snow blanketed the St. Louis area, and forecasters predicted up to 6 inches in parts of southern New England as the storm made its way east. They also predicted northern New Jersey could see 4 to 8 inches of snow before the system exits the region early Friday, while parts of suburban Philadelphia had 5 inches of snow by Thursday afternoon.
Weather officials said the overnight trace in Alabama missed setting a record for earliest snow by about two weeks.
In neighboring Mississippi, a tour bus bound for a casino overturned, killing two people and injuring 44 others Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses said the driver lost control after crossing an icy overpass and the bus rolled over on its driver's side, coming to rest in an interstate median, Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Johnny Poulos said. The crash happened about 35 miles southeast of downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
"All of a sudden the bus started swerving then it spun around two times, hit the rail and then flipped over," bus passenger Veronica Love told news outlets as she left a hospital after the wreck. "The second spin, it started picking up speed. It was, I mean, what could you do?"
Later Wednesday night, near Little Rock, Arkansas, three people were killed in separate crashes on icy roads. The interstate was closed and reopened shortly before daybreak Thursday, but officials said traffic was slow-going because some drivers had fallen asleep.
Officials in Ohio reported at least one traffic death that was likely weather-related. Indiana State Police also reported a death early Thursday, which they said was caused by the 60-year-old woman driving too fast on a slick road.
In Philadelphia, a meteorologist told the Allentown Morning Call that this storm is "an overperformer." By 3 p.m. Thursday, parts of suburban Philadelphia had 5 inches of snow. The freezing rain turned to ice on roads around the state, leading to a number of crashes and reports of cars sliding off roads.
In North Carolina, the National Park Service closed a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway to traffic Thursday because of dangerous road conditions stemming from snow, sleet and freezing rain, the Asheville Citizen Times reported.
Schools closed or sent students home early across the lower Great Lakes and the Northeast, including at the University of Connecticut where classes were canceled in the afternoon.
Parents of school children in West Orange, New Jersey, were sent letters saying bad weather could leave students stranded at the school overnight.
In Virginia, the planned launch early Thursday of an unmanned cargo rocket to the International Space Station had to be rescheduled by one day because of the weather, NASA said. The unmanned Cygnus cargo craft is now scheduled to lift off early Saturday from Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore carrying supplies and research materials for the astronauts at the space station.