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Video: Monster storm bears down on Midwest

  1. Closed captioning of: Monster storm bears down on Midwest

    >>> a storm so big it runs from coast to coast . 9 at one point today, this measured over 2,000 miles in its total width. more than one simple and complete weather system . nine states are under blizzard warnings tonight, and they're talking about what, two feet or more, in a possibly history making blizzard in chicago , illinois, as this ugly winter of 2010 - 2011 continues. kevin tibbles heads off our coverage. 9

    >> reporter: brian, a huge swath of this nation, including right here in beautiful chicago , illinois is expecting 24 inches, two feet of snow from a massive storm paralyzes much of the country. as the big white monster marches in, the nation mobilizes. an estimated 100 million people stand in the path of this massive storm.

    >> i can barely talk right now, my face is so freakin' cold.

    >> reporter: fema is already positioned in 11 states. states of emergency declared in at least four. and the national guard has been deployed in others.

    >> nothing's leaving, so you don't know whether to sit here and wait or rent a car and try to drive.

    >> reporter: more than 6,000 flights already cancelled. power outages reported from texas to michigan and beyond. chicago , where they know winter is bracing for two feet of snow.

    >> we are prepared to use our whole fleet of 274 trucks and 120 garbage trucks with quick hitch plows.

    >> reporter: heavy snow and ice hammering major cities hard.

    >> i'm charles hadlock outside of dallas, where snow, sleet and ice brought closures and shut down mass transit . just as 100,000 people are starting to descend on this city for this weekend's super bowl . 9 we've had winds gusting 40 to 50 miles an hour. that's causing whiteout conditions here. advisability at times getting below an eighth of a mile. that creates dangerous travel conditions. in fact, the state department of transportation advising people to stay off the roads and stay home.

    >> i'm john yang in st. louis, the big concern is the heavy snow on top of the ice that's already here, plus heavy winds are going to bring down tree limbs and power lines . the local utility has 500 linemen standing by.

    >> here, near indianapolis an inch of ice has glazed roads and freeways. national guard troops are helping drivers and residents. and forecasters are calling the storm devastating. saying it could be the worst in state history.

    >> reporter: brian, you heard them, authorities are saying, stay home, stay off the roads, and hunker down. this could be a very long and dangerous night.

NBC News and news services
updated 2/2/2011 3:21:55 AM ET 2011-02-02T08:21:55

A winter weather colossus roared into the nation's heartland Tuesday, laying down a paralyzing punch of dangerous ice and whiteout snow that served notice from Texas to Maine that the storm billed as the worst in decades could live up to the hype.

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Ice-covered streets were deserted in Super Bowl host city Dallas. Whiteouts shut down Oklahoma City and Tulsa. And more was on the way. Chicago expected 2 feet of snow, Indianapolis an inch of ice, and the Northeast still more ice and snow in what's shaping up to be a record winter for the region.

The system that stretched more than 2,000 miles across a third of the country promised to leave in its aftermath a chilly cloak of teeth-chattering cold, with temperatures in the single digits or lower.

The storm held the potential to impact about 100 million people, or one-third of the U.S. population, according to The Weather Channel.

Winds topped 60 mph in Texas. The newspaper in Tulsa, Okla., canceled its print edition for the first time in more than a century. In Chicago, public schools called a snow day for the first time in 12 years, and both major airports gave up on flying until at least Wednesday afternoon.

The storm also led Chicago officials to close the city's busy and iconic Lake Shore Drive after numerous accidents that stranded motorists and buses for several hours. City officials said the move was temporary but that they could have to close it again if high winds push 25-foot waves from nearby Lake Michigan onto the roadway.

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Everyone "should brace for a storm that will be remembered for a long time," said Jose Santiago, executive director of the city's office of emergency management.

NBC News reported that a record-breaking 13.6 inches of snow fell at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Tuesday. The city's previous record for a single day in February was 11.5 inches on February 18, 1908.

Chicago commuters started fleeing downtown by early afternoon. Bridges across the Chicago River were clogged by 2:30 p.m., and train stations were overwhelmed, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Everyone "should brace for a storm that will be remembered for a long time," said Jose Santiago, executive director of the city's office of emergency management.

Video: Northeast braces for ice storm (on this page)

Cities across middle America shut down hours ahead of the snow. Scores of schools, colleges and government offices canceled activities or decided not to open at all. Large sections of busy Midwest interstates were closed, and 9,000 flights had been canceled across the nation.

Advice to stay home was followed widely. Thousands of office workers in Chicago's famous downtown Loop district left early to avoid any transit troubles. Pete Donaghue, a 49-year-old commodity trader, missed an early train before catching a 2:35 p.m. ride to suburban Wilmette.

"Big mistake," he said. "I'd be home right now, with my feet up, clicker in hand."

At the city's elegant apartment buildings closest to Lake Michigan, employees weren't fazed by the storm, but they kept an eye on the lakefront nonetheless. The wind was strong enough outside one building's lobby to send the heavy revolving door spinning by itself.

"This is nothing to play with here. This is gale-force wind," doorman Edward Butler said as he peered outside at snow blowing horizontally and in small cyclones.

The management at Butler's building called in extra employees for the storm. They bought the staff dinner and offered to put them up for the night at a nearby hotel, but Butler planned to drive home no matter what.

Story: Ice, snow force thousands of flight cancellations

"If you're a true Chicagoan, you don't back down from this kind of storm." But, he added, "if you don't respect it, you'll pay a price."

In Missouri, more than a foot of snow had fallen by midday, with no end in sight. For the first time in history, the state of Missouri shut down Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City due to a winter storm.

"The roads are just pure white. There's no traffic. Nothing," said Kristi Strait, who was working at Clinton Discount Building Materials in Clinton, Mo.

Meteorologist Jeff Johnson of the National Weather Service in Des Moines said the storm was sure to "cripple transportation for a couple of days." The snow and the wind were a dangerous combination, even in areas where not that much snow was expected.

"You don't want to get caught out in the rural areas in your vehicle in this storm. It's a good night to stay home," he said.

The storm was so bad in Polk County, 200 miles west of St. Louis, that emergency officials requested help from the National Guard because local officials did not have enough vehicles to get the elderly and shut-ins to shelter if the power went out.

In state capitols across the Midwest and East, lawmakers cut short their workweek because of the storm. Normally bustling downtown streets were quiet, too. And many stores were closed, with signs on the windows blaming the weather.

Video: Storm update and reports from St. Louis, Chicago (on this page)

Others didn't let the weather keep them from work. The bakery Chez Monet in downtown Jefferson City was open, adding hot oatmeal for chilled customers. Owner Joan Fairfax said she rode to work without trouble. She wasn't sure about her ride home, but said she could walk if necessary.

"I have never missed a day of work because of weather in 20 years," said Fairfax, 54.

The leading edge of the storm slammed first into Texas and Oklahoma after moving out of the Rockies. The blizzard halted production of the print edition of Wednesday's Tulsa World, marking the first time in the paper's nearly 106-year history that is has not published an edition.

Both of Oklahoma's major airports were closed. Outside Tulsa, at the Hard Rock Casino, the snow caused the partial collapse of a roof, but no injuries were reported.

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In Texas, thousands of people lost electricity during the frigid conditions. Utility company Oncor reported nearly 27,000 customers without power statewide, with nearly half of the outages in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

St. Louis-based AmerenUE had 1,100 linemen on standby, some borrowed from companies in other states. Six trailers stocked with wire, replacement lines and other supplies were dispatched to possible trouble spots.

Few immediate outages were reported. But Chip Webb, Ameren's superintendent of reliability support services, expected that to change.

"There is ice on the lines," and it could be there for days, Webb said.

For those who insisted on braving the elements, the risks were many. "If you don't have enough fuel in your vehicle, you can run out, the heat goes out — and people can even freeze to death," said Greg Cohen, executive director of the Roadway Safety Foundation.

The storm was expected to roll into the Northeast on Wednesday, bringing still more snow to a winter-weary region. Towns that have been hit by several blizzards since December feared they wouldn't have anywhere to put more snow.

Ice-coated roads were nearly empty in Dallas, where the few motorists who braved the unfamiliar terrain slowed to a crawl as they passed jack-knifed tractor-trailers on slick highways. The NFL managed to stick to its Super Bowl schedule, holding media activities at Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington as planned.

Story: Send, view images of the wicked winter of 2011

Green Bay Packers fans Dieter Sturm and Mark Madson postponed plans to drive from Wisconsin to the Super Bowl in a Cadillac convertible, but said they planned to leave Wednesday morning if possible.

"We love driving in the snow," said Sturm, who works making snow for movies and commercials. "We love having the snow fall on top of us. We're from Wisconsin. We can handle that without a problem. The icy roads are another story."

The pair said they have personal heating systems, including clothes dryer hoses laced inside their jackets that rest beneath their chins to keep their "faces from freezing solid," Sturm said.

In Ryan Stratton's house in the northern Oklahoma town of Bartlesville, nine children and nine adults crowded together to play video games, at least as long as the electricity stayed on.

Slideshow: 'Enough Already' and other winter cartoons

The area tends to lose electricity in storms, Stratton said, and that's one reason he invited two other families to join him while waiting for this one to pass. They prepared by stocking up on propane and food, but a power outage would cut out some of the fun.

"We've got Rock Band, a PlayStation 3 in one room, a Wii in another, an old PS2 in another," Stratton said. "And we've got cable. ... It's a good chaos today."

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

Photos: Deep freeze, snow across U.S.

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  1. Irving, Texas

    This sculpture was iced over Thursday, Feb. 3, in Irving, Texas. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Miami, Oklahoma

    A pickup truck that plunged off this snow-covered bridge near Miami, Okla, on Thursday sits in the Spring River. Three people were killed and five others injured. (Gary Crow / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Chicago

    The Chicago skyline is reflected on a thin layer of ice as a chunk of snow-covered ice floats in Monroe Harbor on Thursday. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Chicago

    Robert Brigs shovels snow on Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago on Thursday. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Iowa City, Iowa

    A car sits abandoned in the median of I-380 between Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Iowa City on Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Commuters brave subzero wind chills as they return to work Thursday in Chicago. This week's blizzard dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the city. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Racine County, Wisconsin

    A man walks behind high snowdrift in Racine County, Wis., on Wednesday. (Darren Hauck / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Auburn, Mass.

    Officials walk past a building that collapsed in Auburn, Mass., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, after days of heavy snow followed by rain. (Paul Kapteyn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Elizabethtown, Pa.

    A fallen tree weighed down with ice sits on Old Hershey Road in Elizabethtown, Pa., on Wednesday. (Blaine Shahan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Milwaukee, Wis.

    This walkway to Lake Michigan was frozen over Wednesday in Milwaukee, Wis. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Chicago

    A commuter climbs over a snow bank to catch a bus Wednesday in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Chicago, Ill.

    Hundreds of cars are seen stranded Wednesday on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Chicago, Ill.

    Snow piles up on the driver's seat of a stranded Chicago Transit bus on Wednesday after the door was left open during the overnight blizzard. The bus was abandoned on Lake Shore Drive. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Akron, N.Y

    Andrea Todd shovels snow from her driveway with her dog Myles in Akron, N.Y., on Wednesday. (David Duprey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Milwaukee, Wis.

    A wave sends large chunks of ice into the break wall at the Milwaukee Marina in Wisconsin on Wednesday. (Darren Hauck / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Iowa City, Iowa

    Downtown Iowa City, area near the University of Iowa, is a virtual ghost town on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Windsor, Conn.

    People stop along Interstate 91 in Windsor, Conn., to help push a car out of a snow bank on Wednesday. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Chicago

    Blizzard winds swirl the snow on an elevated train platform in Chicago early Wednesday. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Buffalo, N.Y.

    Frost forms on a window in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday. (David Duprey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Salem, N.H.

    This car landed vertically into a snowbank after a multiple vehicle accident on Interstate 93 on Tuesday north of Salem, N.H. No one was injured. (Tim Jean / The Eagle-Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. New York City

    The Wednesday morning commute in New York City's lower Manhattan was an icy one. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Westfield, N.J.

    An officer blocks the road to prevent pedestrians and traffic from approaching a fallen tree branch and power lines in Westfield, N.J., on Wednesday. (John Makely / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Milwaukee, Wis.

    A cyclist tries to ride during the blizzard in Milwaukee, Wis., on Wednesday. (Darren Hauck / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Barre, Vt.

    A dog named Muldoon waits for its owner, who stopped for coffee on Wednesday in Barre, Vt. (Toby Talbot / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Chicago

    Men help push a car that got stuck in a snow on the Lake Shore Drive in Chicago early Wednesday. (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Milwaukee, Wis.

    Students from Marquette University in Milwaukee to go to the Union Building in blinding snow as a blizzard warning hits southeast Wisconsin on Tuesday. Marquette canceled classes for Wednesday. (Rick Wood / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Chicago

    Cross country skiers navigate through snow downtown Chicago on Tuesday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Chicago

    Rush hour traffic crawls as blowing snow batters Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on Tuesday. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Columbia, Mo.

    A snow-and-ice covered Chris Gubbels pauses while walking his dog Tuesday in Columbia. Mo. (L.G. Patterson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Chicago, Ill.

    Snow falls on the Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as "the bean," in Millennium Park downtown Chicago on Monday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. View from above

    This satellite image provided by NOAA shows the winter storm covering much of the U.S. on Tuesday. (NOAA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Fayetteville, Ark.

    A snow plow clears College Ave. in Fayetteville, Ark., on Tuesday as heavy snow falls. (April L. Brown / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Chicago, Ill.

    An approaching blizzard doesn't stop this fisherman Tuesday on Lake Michigan in Chicago. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Boonville, Mo.

    Trucks disappear into the white snow as they travel along I-70 on Tuesday near Boonville, Mo. (L.G. Patterson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Rogers, Ark.

    Postal carrier Tip Burnett uses a rubber hammer to open a frozen mailbox at the National Guard armory in Rogers, Ark., during heavy snow on Tuesday. (Flip Putthoff / Northwest Arkansas Newspapers vi) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Morning commuters in New York City make their way over a snow covered Williamsburg bridge on Tuesday. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Port Washington, Wisc

    Icicles form on a walkway along Lake Michigan in Port Washington, Wisc., on Tuesday. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Carmel, Ind

    A Bobcat is used to clear a parking lot of two-inch-thick ice in Carmel, Ind., on Tuesday. (Michael Conroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Lancaster, Pa.

    Icy patches made crossing the sidewalk in Lancaster, Pa., a challenge on Tuesday. (Richard Hertzler / Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Owasso, Okla

    Ila Dooley digs her car out to try and get to work on Tuesday in Owasso, Okla. Both of Oklahoma's major airports had to shut down due to the snow. (Mike Simons / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. St. Louis, Mo

    Snow plows work to remove ice from Interstate 55 on Tuesday in St. Louis, Mo. A blizzard warning was in effect for the St. Louis area, as was a forecast for up to 20 inches of snow. (Tom Gannam / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Albany, N.Y.

    Snow was also falling Tuesday in downtown Albany, N.Y. Most of upstate New York was under a winter storm warning and Gov. Andrew Cuomo opened the State Emergency Operations Center due to a forecast of up to 2 feet of snow in some areas. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Denver, Co.

    A woman braces against the cold and blowing snow as she crosses the street in the financial district of downtown Denver on Monday. School officials canceled schools in Denver for Tuesday. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Pembroke, Mass.

    Scott Buchanan scrapes snow off the roof of his house in Pembroke, Mass., on Monday as his yellow Lab Charlie holds a snow covered ball in his mouth waiting to play catch. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Lexington, Ky.

    Lexington, Ky., police and firefighters work at the scene of an accident after freezing rain moved coated roads there on Monday. A section of Georgetown Road was closed after two separate accidents involving five vehicles. Freezing rain turned the bridge into a sheet of ice. (Charles Bertram / The Lexington Herald-Leader via) Back to slideshow navigation
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Map: Storm path, pictures

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