Storm bringing wintry misery to Midwest

CHICAGO (AP) -- A major winter storm cut a broad swath across the Midwest on Friday, snarling traffic and cutting power to thousands of households. Schools across the Northeast closed in anticipation as the storm lumbered eastward.

The National Weather Service said heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain would continue through midmorning in Illinois and Indiana.

"We are pleading with the public to stay home today if possible," said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Power companies reported 60,000 customers in Illinois without service. In Indiana, 120,000 outages were reported.

In Wisconsin, more than 8 inches of snow had fallen by daybreak in Jefferson County in the southeast part of the state.

Milwaukee's airport was closed because snowplows on the runways could not keep up with "whiteout conditions," airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said.

Snow and freezing rain were also a problem in Iowa. But authorities there said only scattered power outages were reported, because there wasn't much wind to bring ice-laden tree limbs down onto power lines.

In the Northeast, snowfall totals of up to 14 inches were forecast. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick asked nonessential state employees to stay home.

More than 300 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and ahead of the storm, more than 500 were canceled at New York City-area airports.

Children got an early start on the holiday break as schools were closed from Nebraska to Michigan to New Jersey, New York and New England.

The storm had the potential to complicate efforts to restore power to New England homes and businesses still without power one week after an ice storm that toppled trees and utility lines.

Officials said about 10,000 customers in Massachusetts were still waiting for power to be restored, down from a peak of 350,000 in the immediate aftermath of the storm. A dozen emergency shelters remained in operation. In New Hampshire, about 33,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark.

On Wednesday and Thursday, wintry weather had made life miserable in parts of the West. A record December snowfall of 3.6 inches was recorded in Las Vegas, while in Spokane, Wash., nearly 2 feet of snow fell.

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