CHICAGO — The Great Plains were digging out, the Great Lakes were being walloped and the Northeast was bracing for impact on Saturday as a huge snowstorm raced across the Northern states.
The storm, which complicated travel and busted plans for the three-day weekend across much of the country, caused problems from Kansas, where the governor declared an emergency, to New England, where forecasters predicted up to two feet of snow and warned of avalanches.
The fallout was bleak for travelers: Flights were canceled by the thousands and officials gave stern warnings to stay off the roads.
By late Saturday afternoon, the worst of the storm was crossing the Appalachian Mountains and advancing toward the East Coast, where the brunt of the snowfall was expected overnight Saturday and into Sunday. But the scope of the storm remained impressive, with precipitation falling from southeast Missouri to upstate New York.
Areas to the south and closer to the coast were expected to get a wintry cocktail of snow, sleet, rain and ice, followed by plummeting temperatures.
“It’s a complicated storm,” said Rich Otto, a National Weather Service meteorologist, who said the “kitchen sink” of mixed precipitation was caused by a combination of cold air moving down from Canada and low pressure coming in from the south.
The storm continued to move briskly and was not expected to linger in the Northeast. Mr. Otto said he expected the worst to move past New York City, where only two or three inches were forecast, by Sunday morning. In New England, the storm was expected to pass by Sunday night.
As with any storm, National Weather Service offices across the country were busy providing detailed forecasts and updates. But this time their meteorologists were doing it without pay, a casualty of the federal government shutdown.
“There’s definitely a drain on morale,” said Ray Martin, a senior meteorologist in the Weather Service office serving Washington and Baltimore. He said he knew colleagues with young children or a new house who were struggling. “There’s a little bit of not feeling appreciated,” he added.
Cyclists in Madison, Wis., braved a snowstorm that is sweeping through the Northern United States.CreditSteve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal, via Associated Press
Though the snowstorm was not exactly surprising — it is January, after all — its impact has proved frightening, especially on transportation.
A United Airlines plane slid off a concrete surface at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Saturday, while the plane was turning off a runway. Airline officials said no injuries were reported.
The night before, at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, a Southwest Airlines plane slid off the runway after landing. After a bumpy descent, the plane seemed to be coming in sideways just before touching down, said Benny Salz, a passenger on the flight. It hit the ground hard, fishtailed and slid into the grass just off the runway, said Mr. Salz, 30, a music producer and singer who lives in Los Angeles.
“People were definitely freaked out when we landed,” he said.
Road conditions were also nasty. Two people died in Kohler, Wis., on Friday night after a car they were riding in slid off a slick, snow-covered interstate and struck a tree, the local police said. In Kansas, the state Department of Transportation said one of its drivers died Saturday morning in a crash south of Kansas City.
Officials urged drivers to take precautions. In Missouri, the Transportation Department said “roads continue to be slick” and “folks are still driving too fast for the current conditions.” In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned tractor-trailers and buses on most interstates for the duration of the storm. And in Rhode Island, state troopers warned that residents might encounter icy roads if they left home to watch the New England Patriots play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
“If there is ever a weekend to stay in and binge-watch something, this may be it,” said Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who declared a state of emergency starting at noon Saturday.
More than 2,000 flights were canceled across the country on Saturday, according to the flight-tracking site FlightAware, more than a quarter of those in Chicago. Dozens had been canceled in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
But some people were able to find a silver lining amid the chaos.
As Dr. Jennifer Hartwell was in midflight from Austin, Tex., to Detroit on Friday evening, she saw that her connecting flight to Indianapolis had been delayed to the next morning. She sent a text message to her husband from the plane, asking him to book a rental car, then asked a flight attendant to see if there were other passengers who wanted to take the four-hour road trip with her.
Three other passengers took her up. One of them had been racing to get home because of a death in the family and would have missed a memorial service if she had waited for the delayed flight, said Dr. Hartwell, a trauma surgeon.
When they arrived in Indianapolis in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the father of the woman going to the memorial service embraced Dr. Hartwell.
“Thank you very much for getting my daughter to me,” he said through tears.
“If you step back,” Dr. Hartwell, 41, said, “you can make a connection with people that is meaningful and make the most out of the situation.”