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Winter storm moves east bringing heavy snow, flooding

More than 50 million Americans were under alerts late Thursday for winter weather, flooding rain and other threats.

A massive storm system brought heavy snow and a wintry mix on the northern side of the system, flooding rainfall in the middle and severe thunderstorms on the southern side.

Heavy snow with snowfall rates of 2 inches per hour at times was affecting parts of the central Plains and Midwest on Thursday morning. In fact, thundersnow was reported in the Kansas City area.

Officials in Illinois described white-out conditions across a wide swath of the central part of the state and in the Chicago area.

On Interstate 39, east of Peoria, Illinois State Police said there was a 28 vehicle crash and “numerous” other cars slid off the road. No injuries were reported. A lengthy stretch of the highway was likely to remain closed through Friday, the department said.

South of Chicago, an ice jam in the Kankakee River broke apart, triggering flash flooding in the Wilmington area. Authorities told residents to immediately move to higher ground.

Officials in New York warned that a large section of the state could also see flooding from ice jams. Gov. Kathy Hochul said a state task force dedicated to the issue was monitoring the situation, and she urged residents in flood-prone areas to protect themselves and their families.

In Missouri, authorities described blizzard-like conditions and pleaded with drivers to stay off the roads. The National Weather Service said the 7 inches of snow that fell in Kansas City topped the previous daily record of half a foot set in 1893.

In Illinois, a foot of snow fell in Manito, in the central part of the state, the Weather Prediction Center said late Thursday. In Kansas and Missouri, snowfall totals reached 10 inches.

At the same time, 1 to 3 inches of rain falling over already significant snow totals was expected to result in flood concerns from the Midwest to New England.

More than 100 river gauges are forecast to rise from minor to major flood stage in the coming days. Rivers to watch include those in northeast Ohio and the Buffalo, New York, area.

In Ohio, daily rainfall records were set in Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton before a cold front moved through the region, bringing with it a wintry mix, the National Weather Service said.

One Cleveland resident reported a temperature drop of roughly 20 degrees in a few hours, falling from the mid-50s to 33 degrees.

"Water on the tree branches is already turning to ice," she said.

Farther south, where there was a severe thunderstorm threat, forecasters said there was a radar-confirmed tornado in Fayatte County, Alabama, north of Tuscaloosa. It wasn't immediately clear how strong the tornado was, and there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

A tornado warning was in effect for the Birmingham area until Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service. Powerful winds topping 70 mph and other hazardous weather was still possible across a large section of Mississippi and Alabama, the agency said.

More than 100 million people from Mississippi to New Hampshire remained under a wind advisory Thursday, with gusts reaching 65 mph in some areas, forecasters said.

Thursday night into Friday morning, the heavy rain accompanied by strong winds will reach the East Coast. Timing of torrential rainfall and the strongest wind gusts will be midnight to 6 a.m. Friday. Winds could gust as high as 65 mph in spots. All rain will be off the Atlantic coast by 9 a.m. Friday.

Ahead of the storm, there will be record warm temperatures across parts of the Northeast and New England.

A record-high temperature of 59 degrees was set in Worcester, Mass., the National Weather Service said, and Boston tied its 1981 record of 61.

Highs in this region will be 20 to 30 degrees above average, making it feel more like April than February. Friday will start mild, but temperatures will drop during the day and into the weekend.

The Weather Prediction Center said the storm was forecast to drop as much as 8 inches of snow over parts of Indiana and Michigan through Friday morning. Between 8 inches and a foot is expected between upstate New York and Maine.