WASHINGTON, March 5 (RIA Novosti) A late-season winter storm hit the Midwestern United States early Tuesday, forcing schools to close, canceling more than 2,000 flights and offering much of the East Coast a cautious glimpse of what was headed their way.
"This will be the biggest widespread storm of the winter," National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said, according to The Associated Press.
A steady snow began in Chicago before daybreak, and forecasters predicted a total accumulation of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, northern Missouri and the Appalachian Mountains.
“Looks like it’ll be pretty bad. We have a band of moderate to heavy snow from Minneapolis toward the Chicago area, and it’s going to be a tough day and night there,” said CBS News Weather Consultant David Bernard.
By mid-day Tuesday, airlines had cancelled 1,413 flights into and out of the region, including dozens of international flights, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Another 655 flights were already cancelled for Wednesday.
In Chicago – expected to be one of the hardest hit areas – more than 800 flights at O’Hare International Airport and 239 flights at Midway International Airport were cancelled.
“It happens a couple of times every winter in times of inclement weather, but this is a large number of cancellations,” said Karen Pride, director of media relations for the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), in an interview with RIA Novosti.
Pride said it is the airlines’ responsibility to accommodate their passengers, but if they anticipate there might be a large number of people staying at the airport, CDA can implement a free “passenger assistance program.”
“We set up cots and blankets, hand out amenity kits which include toothbrushes, face wash, coupons for the concessions, things like that, and with all of that we can accommodate up to 1,200 people,” she said.
“So far they haven’t made that request, but usually it would come late in the day,” added Pride.
The storm system was expected to move east and hit Washington late Tuesday, bringing six-to-12 inches (15-to-30 centimeters) of snow and likely forcing delays or cancellations through Thursday at the region’s airports, according to The Weather Channel.
Because the snow is expected to be heavy and wet, utility companies in the Washington region asked for hundreds of out-of-state workers to assist in making any needed repairs, and encouraged people to be prepared for power outages.