KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Commuters battled ice-glazed roads and heavy snow early Thursday after the year's first real blast of winter weather swept across the Plains and Great Lakes. At least 14 deaths have been blamed on the slick roads and freezing temperatures.
Heavy snow and freezing rain stranded airline passengers, shut down schools and left thousands without electricity across the Midwest on Thursday. The Michigan Legislature called off its session and hearings after forecasters warned freezing rain would continue into evening.
About 270,000 customers were without power in the Kansas City area, 200,000 lost power in Oklahoma, and at least 63,000 others were without power in Michigan and Indiana.
"That makes this easily the worst storm we have ever experienced," said Kansas City Power and Light spokesman Tom Robinson. "We need our customers to be prepared that this could last several days."
The storm had dumped 17 inches of snow on O'Hare International Airport in Chicago by early Thursday, causing some cancellations and delays. Northwest Airlines and United canceled all Wednesday flights in and out of Kansas City International Airport; Delta scrubbed some flights, and more delays were expected Thursday.
The blustery weather interrupted an unseasonably warm winter, with several states reaching record highs just days earlier.
"Winter is back," said Dennis Burkheimer of the Iowa Department of Transportation. "Put away the golf clubs."
The National Weather Service said the storm system, centered over the Mississippi Valley, would move northeast through the day and night pushing more snow, sleet and freezing rain into New York.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating declared disasters in 27 counties, allowing state funds to be used for aid.
Oklahoma officials said entire cities were without power, as heavy ice toppled trees and downed power lines. Shelters were set up for those without heat. In Perry, decades-old elm and pecan trees snapped under the coating of ice and littered the streets.
"All you could do was hear these trees snap and crack. Some of them sounded like shotguns," said Resident Blanche Hunt.
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