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Storm barrels through U.S. Midwest, heads toward the nation's capital

The Canadian Press
March 6, 2013 — A late winter storm is dumping heavy snow on Chicago as it moves from the Midwest to Mid-Atlantic.

Heavy snow is blasting the U.S. Midwest
Heavy snow is blasting the U.S. Midwest

A late winter storm packing up to 25 cm of snow sent officials in weather-hardened Chicago into action Tuesday to prevent a repeat of scenes from two years ago, when hundreds of people in cars and buses were stranded on the city's marquee thoroughfare during a massive blizzard. 

The storm was part of a system that started in Montana, hit the Dakotas and Minnesota on Monday and then barrelled through Wisconsin and Illinois on its way to Washington, D.C. 

As the storm pushed toward the Mid-Atlantic region, people there were gathering supplies and airlines were cancelling flights. 

Since the 2011 blizzard that dumped 50 cm of snow on Chicago, the nation's third-largest city has had it pretty easy snow-wise, with a relatively mild winter last year and a slow start this year.

The storm that was moving through the Midwest on Tuesday had dumped more than 20 cm at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport by 9 pm. 

Preparations for Tuesday's storm, including warnings to commuters that it was coming, may have paid off. 

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said in an email that traffic was lighter than normal on Chicago expressways Tuesday afternoon, an indication that many people took public transportation instead of cars. Claffey also said there were no reports of any major traffic accidents. 

Still, some in Chicago were caught off guard by the last gasp from Old Man Winter. 

Many left their downtown jobs early, with some saying they had to go home to take care of children after school programs were cancelled or baby sitters couldn't make it. 

Schools were closed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, where officials urged caution on slick roads.

In western Wisconsin, a semi-trailer slid off a snow-covered interstate near Menomonie and into the Red Cedar River, killing one person. The search for a second person, believed to be a passenger, was suspended overnight.

Satellite imagery of the storm on Wednesday (courtesy: NOAA-NASA)
Satellite imagery of the storm on Wednesday (courtesy: NOAA-NASA)

In Chicago, officials worked to keep Lake Shore Drive safe.

The February 2011 blizzard embarrassed the city when hundreds of cars and buses were entombed in snow on the roadway that runs along Lake Michigan.

Many people were trapped overnight. City government took steps to prevent a repeat. 

Officials opened a removable barrier in the roadway's median to allow emergency vehicles quicker access to trouble spots. 

As the storm moved through the Midwest, people in the Mid-Atlantic region were getting ready. 

Minor tidal flooding was possible along the Delaware coast, the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Potomac River, the National Weather Service said.

Still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, the Jersey Shore was preparing for another possible hit Wednesday and Thursday.

The storm should bring rain and snow, but one of the biggest problems could be flooding in areas where dunes were washed away and many damaged homes still sit open and exposed.

Nearly one million kids were out of school on Wednesday and more than 180,000 people were without power across the country. Thousands of of air passengers have been left stranded after days of compounding cancellations.

"Let me reiterate something that we said all morning yesterday, and that is the best thing the people in the city can do is to stay off the streets," said Washington. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday.

"We obviously closed the schools, we obviously closed the government, the federal government is closed. But that should not be an invitation to go out and get in a vehicle and make it more difficult for us to move rapidly with the cleanup."

Some places could see up to 30 cm of snow before the system tapers this weekend.

With files from CNN

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