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Large, powerful storm heads east; at least 6 dead

  • Murphy High School teacher Leland Howard tries to salvage items where his algebra classroom once stood in a temporary building at Murphy High School as residents clean up and assess the damage from a Christmas Day tornado Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012  in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

    Murphy High School teacher Leland Howard tries to salvage items where his algebra classroom once stood in a temporary building at Murphy High School as residents clean up and assess the damage from a Christmas Day tornado Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

  • A street sign is bent at a severe angle from a Christmas Day tornado as residents clean up and assess the damage Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012  in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

    A street sign is bent at a severe angle from a Christmas Day tornado as residents clean up and assess the damage Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

  • Shoppers buy groceries at the Kroger's in West State Plaza on W. State Blvd during a snow storm in Fort Wayne, Ind., Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/The Journal Gazette, Cathie Rowand)

    Shoppers buy groceries at the Kroger's in West State Plaza on W. State Blvd during a snow storm in Fort Wayne, Ind., Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/The Journal Gazette, Cathie Rowand)

  • Residents and clean-up crews clear damaged trees and other debris left behind by a Christmas Day tornado Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012  in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

    Residents and clean-up crews clear damaged trees and other debris left behind by a Christmas Day tornado Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

  • Cars navigate a slushy S. East Street near Yowell Meadow park in the town of Culpeper, Va. An overnight storm brought rain, snow and ice to the Culpeper area on Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Reza A. Marvashti)

    Cars navigate a slushy S. East Street near Yowell Meadow park in the town of Culpeper, Va. An overnight storm brought rain, snow and ice to the Culpeper area on Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Reza A. Marvashti)

  • A snow dusted cornfield in Culpeper county shows the effects of a winter storm. An overnight storm brought rain, snow and ice to the Culpeper area on Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Reza A. Marvashti)

    A snow dusted cornfield in Culpeper county shows the effects of a winter storm. An overnight storm brought rain, snow and ice to the Culpeper area on Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Reza A. Marvashti)

  • Murphy High School teacher Leland Howard tries to salvage items where his algebra classroom once stood in a temporary building at Murphy High School as residents clean up and assess the damage from a Christmas Day tornado Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012  in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)
  • A street sign is bent at a severe angle from a Christmas Day tornado as residents clean up and assess the damage Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012  in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)
  • Shoppers buy groceries at the Kroger's in West State Plaza on W. State Blvd during a snow storm in Fort Wayne, Ind., Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/The Journal Gazette, Cathie Rowand)
  • Residents and clean-up crews clear damaged trees and other debris left behind by a Christmas Day tornado Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012  in Mobile, Ala. With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)
  • Cars navigate a slushy S. East Street near Yowell Meadow park in the town of Culpeper, Va. An overnight storm brought rain, snow and ice to the Culpeper area on Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Reza A. Marvashti)
  • A snow dusted cornfield in Culpeper county shows the effects of a winter storm. An overnight storm brought rain, snow and ice to the Culpeper area on Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Reza A. Marvashti)

A powerful winter storm system pounded the nation’s midsection yesterday and headed toward the Northeast, where people braced for the high winds and heavy snow that disrupted holiday travel, knocked out power to thousands of homes and were blamed in at least six deaths.

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued amid snowy gusts of 30 mph that blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.

“The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex,” said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.

The system, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and headed toward the Northeast.

Forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow inland from western New York to Maine starting last night and into today.

The National Weather Service said last night that spotters had reported up to a foot of snow in some Pennsylvania counties.

And a mix of snow, sleet and rain accompanied by high winds arrived in western Massachusetts late yesterday.

The system was expected to taper off into a mix of rain and snow closer to the coast, where little or no accumulation was expected in such cities as Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida would see severe thunderstorms.

Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were implored to avoid it.

Snow was blamed for scores of vehicle accidents as far east as Maryland, and about two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency travel alerts.

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