Wind gusts of 50 km/h were expected to churn-up snow that fell overnight in southern Wisconsin, where forecasters were warning Milwaukee-area residents of slick roads and reduced visibility.
The same was expected in northeast Iowa, while nearly 200 snowplows were deployed overnight in Chicago.
At a Travel Centers of America truck stop in the central Illinois city of Effingham, all of the 137 parking spaces were filled by truckers unwilling to drive through the storm overnight.
"When it gets really bad, they like to camp out," cashier Tia Schneider said Thursday night, noting that some drivers called ahead.
The storm system swirled to the north and east late Thursday, its snow, sleet and freezing rain prompting winter storm across the region and leaving some impressive snow accumulations.
Northern Oklahoma saw more than 30 cm, while Missouri's biggest snow total was 25 cm, shared by the Kansas City metropolitan area. But in Kansas, over 40 cm of snow fell in Hays and nearly the same amounts in a handful of other cities.
State legislatures shut down in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Most schools were closed in Kansas and Missouri, and many in neighbouring states. That included the University of Missouri, where classes were cancelled for one of the few times in its 174-year history.
All flights at Kansas City International Airport were cancelled for Thursday night, and officials said they'd prepare to re-open Friday morning.
On the other side of the state in St. Louis, more than 320 flights at Lambert Airport were cancelled.
Transportation officials in the affected states urged people to simply stay home.
"If you don't have to get out, just really, please, don't do it," Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said.
Interstate 70 through Kansas was snow-packed, and a 300 km stretch between Salina and Colby was closed. The Kansas National Guard had 12 teams patrolling three state highways in Humvees to rescue motorists stranded by the storm.
The storm brought some relief to a region that has been parched by the worst drought in decades.
Vance Ehmke, a wheat farmer near Healy, Kan., said the nearly foot of snow was "what we have been praying for."
Climatologists say 30 cm of snow is equivalent to about 25 mm of rain, depending on the density of the snow.
Near Edwardsville in Illinois, farmer Mike Campbell called the precipitation a blessing after a bone-dry growing season in 2012.
He hopes it is a good omen for the spring, noting that last year, "the corn was just a disaster."
Areas in the Texas Panhandle also had up to 20 cm, and in south central Nebraska, Grand Island reported 25 cm snow.
Arkansas saw a mix of precipitation with a combination of hail, sleet and freezing rain in some place, 15 cm of snow in others.
With files from CNN