By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Snow began falling in the immediate Quincy area early Thursday morning, an ominous sign of things expected to come as the day progresses.
The first major snowstorm to hit the Midwest this season is shutting down interstates, cancelling flights and creating a travel nightmare ahead of one of the busiest holiday travel weekends of the year. The storm is expected to intensify tonight and its impact on many major Midwest cities will be severe, according to a wide variety of reports from the National Weather Service and outlets such as Weather.com.
Blizzard or winter storm warnings have been issued for at least 16 states.
The heaviest snow is expected across a swath extending from northwest Missouri into Milwaukee, Chicago and Michigan, with predictions of as much as a foot of snow in some areas. Before the storm, several cities in the Midwest had broken records for the number of consecutive days without measurable snow.
By late morning, Reuters was reporting more than 400,000 people were already without power as the storm crawled eastward.
Quincy Director of Central Services Marty Stegeman said the city's weather service is predicting 2 to 4 inches of snow by Friday morning, along with dropping temperatures and increasing wind speeds.
"We're fully loaded with salt to hit the wet spots, and we'll have guys in this evening," Stegeman said.
Public safety officials in the region have been warning motorists that it will take longer to stop at intersections and that normal speed limits may be too fast for conditions.
Interstate 29 had some closings in extreme western Missouri early today. Marisa Brown Ellison, customer relations manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation's Northeast District, said MoDOT's road condition map has shown the storm's approach.
"Purple means roads are snow-covered. Early today it was only purple in the St. Joseph, Mo., area and now it has progressed all the way into our district," Ellison said.
By 8 a.m., MoDOT crews near Kirksville were dealing with heavy snow and slushy roads. Crews that work along the northern tier of counties are expecting up to 7 inches of snow by late today and high winds.
"We're warning people about dangerous blowing snow and drifting," Ellison said. "We had a really mild winter last year, so a lot of people haven't driven in this type of weather for a couple of years," Ellison said.
Chicago commuters began Thursday with heavy fog and cold, driving rain, and forecasters said snow would hit the Midwestern metropolis by mid-afternoon. Officials at O'Hare International Airport reported some flight delays and more than 90 cancellations. United Airlines said it would waive change fees for travelers who have to change their plans for travel through O'Hare because of the storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.