Doyle Rice, John Bacon and Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
A powerful storm roared across the nation's midsection Thursday, threatening 20 states and 60 million residents in its path. On Friday morning, the storm was moving northeast.
Parts of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas have been blasted with more than a foot of snow, with sleet and freezing rain exacerbating treacherous conditions, the National Weather Service said.
Winter storm warnings and advisories were issued from eastern Colorado to southwestern Virginia. Officials feared the storm would be the worst in the central U.S. since the Groundhog Day blizzard in 2011, which killed dozens and left hundreds of thousands powerless.
Wichita was hit with 14 inches of snow, the city's second-largest snowstorm on record So far, Hays, Kan., has seen the most snow from this storm, with 17 inches. Other areas of the Midwest could see even more snow before the storm slides east, primed to do more damage there.
A whiteout was reported on the Kansas Turnpike, and 90 miles of Interstate 70 was shut down.
Missouri's Kansas City International Airport shut down, and almost 200 flights had been canceled, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. Cancellations also were piling up at other airports in the storm's path in St. Louis, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston,Chicago O'Hare, Denver, Omaha, Wichita and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Some solace: Most big airlines had issued flexible rebooking policies for fliers with flights to, from or through the central United States.
Most schools in Kansas and Missouri, and many in neighboring states, were closed. Legislatures shut down in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback closed executive offices, except for essential personnel. "If you don't have to get out, just really, please, don't do it," Brownback said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency statewide as a mixture of snow, sleet, and ice paralyzed the state. Some areas were projected to get more than 10 inches of snow.
Up to 9 inches of snow were expected in central Iowa, between the Minnesota and Missouri state borders. Other parts of Iowa were expected to get between 3 to 7 inches of snow.
Grand Island in south central Nebraska reported 10 inches of snow.
In Iowa, snow was expected to fall at up to 2 inches per hour with wind gusts reaching 30 mph during the peak of the storm Thursday night, said the weather service's Roger Vachalek. Des Moines was expecting 8 inches or more.
In Arkansas, an emergency preparedness drill using mock ice storm and involving hospitals and emergency personnel in Baxter and Marion counties was canceled because officials had to deal with a real ice storm.
The storm brought heavy rain, strong winds - but also much-needed moisture - for parts of the drought-scorched Plains.
"In the city you hear they don't want the snow and that sort of thing, and I am thinking, `Yes, we do,' and they don't realize that we need it," said farmer Diane McReynolds of Woodson, Kan.
"We have to have it or their food cost in the grocery store is going to go very high," she said. "We have to have this. We pray a lot for it."
The storm will weaken somewhat Friday as it slides east, forecasters said. Mainly morning snow of about 3-5 inches is expected around the western Great Lakes, Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Dolce reported, with cities such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Detroit seeing the greatest impact.
Farther to the south, freezing rain and sleet is likely in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where up to 1/4 of an inch of ice could accumulate. Along the Gulf Coast, severe storms are possible in far southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
A new storm could form Saturday along the East Coast from the remnants of the winter storm, bringing significant snow from upstate New York to southern New England, Dolce said.
The heavy, wet snow could cause power outages, and enough snow could fall in Boston to set an all-time record for snowiest February ever. The record was in 1969, when 41.3 inches of snow piled up. So far this month, Boston has seen 32 inches of snow.
Contributing: Ben Mutzabaugh; Brandie Piper, KDSK.com; Jens Manuel Krogstad, The Des Moines Register; Alia E. Dastagir in McLean, Va.; Associated Press