ST. LOUIS — Powdery snow bombarded much of the nation's midsection Thursday, leaving as much as 17 inches in some places, shutting down airports, schools and state legislatures.
The storm system swirled to the north and east Thursday night, its snow, sleet and freezing rain prompting winter storm warnings from Kansas to Illinois. Forecasters say the storm will continue its crawl overnight, hitting the upper Midwest by this morning.
The system has already left impressive snow accumulations, especially in Kansas, where a foot and half of snow fell in Hays. Farther east in Topeka, 3 inches of snow fell in only 30 minutes, leaving medical center worker Jennifer Carlock to dread the drive home.
"It came on fast," Carlock said as she shoveled around her car. "We're going to test out traction control on the way home."
Numerous accidents and two deaths were being blamed on the icy, slushy roadways. Most schools in Kansas and Missouri, and many in neighboring states, were closed Thursday and legislatures shut down in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said it was "pouring snow" earlier Thursday, with it falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour or more in some spots.
Northern Oklahoma saw between 10 and 131/2 inches of snow. Missouri's biggest snow total was 10 inches, shared by the Kansas City metropolitan area, Rockport in the northwest corner and Moberly in the central part of the state.
But the highest amounts were in Kansas, where snow totals hit 14 inches in Hutchinson, Macksville and Hanston, and 13 inches in Wichita.
Transportation officials in affected those 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 200-mile stretch between Salina and Colby was closed. The Kansas National Guard has 12 teams patrolling three state highways in Humvees to rescue motorists stranded by the storm.
For those who needed to drive, it's wasn't a fun commute.
Richard Monroe, a technology manager and marketing representative for the Missouri State University bookstore, said he arrived with eight of his colleagues in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday for a conference. He said a shuttle bus taking them on what should have been a five-minute trip got stuck in the snow. Then it ran into a truck.
The vehicle was incapacitated for nearly two hours.
"We saw today that Kansas City is just shut down. I've never seen a big city like this where nothing is moving," the 27-year-old said.
Others people came down with cabin fever, including Jennifer McCoy of Wichita, Kan. She loaded her nine children — ages 6 months to 16 years — in a van for lunch at Applebee's.
"I was going crazy, they were so whiny," McCoy said.
The storm is expected to drop 3 to 9 inches of snow in Iowa overnight, while Nebraska will see another 2 to 5 inches.
Heavy, blowing snow caused scores of businesses in Iowa and Nebraska to close early, including two malls in Omaha, Neb. Mardi Miller, manager of Dillard's department store in Oakview Mall, said most employees had been sent home by 4 p.m., and she believed "only two customers are in the entire store."
Back in Kansas, Katie Nungesser of the People's City Mission says her shelter is over capacity, so people are being placed in the shelter's chapel, lounges, and even a kitchen nook.
"When it gets like this, we just stuff every part of this building," she said of the 24-hour shelter. "We'll have people sleeping everywhere."
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 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.