UPDATE 2-Major snowstorm lashes U.S. Great Plains, heads east
(Adds Kansas City airport closing, Missouri storm details)
Kansas City, Mo., Feb 21 (Reuters) - A major winter storm pounded the U.S. Great Plains on Thursday, creating hazardous travel that resulted in at least one death, closing schools, scuttling air travel and cutting off power to some communities.
Winter storm warnings and advisories were in place for much of the central and southern Plains and into the upper Midwest and Mississippi River Valley as the storm moved east, packing snow, sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said.
The massive storm was expected to spawn thunderstorms and rain on its southern edge from eastern Texas to Georgia, the forecaster said. Ice storm warnings were in effect for parts of northern Arkansas.
"When there is thunder and lightning, it's a pretty screaming clue that you are going to have massive snowfall," said Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. A foot of snow is likely there by Thursday afternoon, he said.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency because of hazardous travel and possible power outages. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback ordered state offices closed because of the storm.
Kansas City International Airport was closed on Thursday morning because low visibility prevented crews from clearing runways, airport spokesman Joe McBride said. Crews were clearing snow in the early afternoon, he said.
The airport's website did not indicate when it might reopen.
Some 55 commuter flights were canceled out of Denver International Airport overnight, mostly due to adverse conditions in Midwestern destinations in Kansas and Nebraska, said spokeswoman Laura Coale.
More than 30 flights in and out of Omaha's Eppley Airfield were listed as canceled at midday Thursday, as were more than 180 at Lambert-St. Louis Airport, which remained open.
In Nebraska, a 19-year-old woman was killed in a two-car accident on Wednesday on Interstate 80 near Giltner. The Nebraska State Patrol said weather was a factor.
The brunt of the snowstorm churned through Kansas, causing scores of accidents and forcing vehicles to slide off roads, but there were no fatalities, according to the state highway patrol. Two semi trucks got stuck on Interstate 35 near Emporia, Kansas, closing the southbound lane on Thursday morning, according to transportation officials.
"Most of the issues we are dealing with are people getting stuck in the snow on ramps when they go to exit," said Gary Warner of the Kansas Highway Patrol office in Wichita.
More than 90 miles of Interstate 70 in north-central Kansas were closed on Thursday afternoon because of the storm.
The Missouri Highway Patrol reported a dozen accidents in the district around St. Louis as sleet and snow began to blanket area roads around midmorning, Sergeant Al Nothum said.
Some parts of southeast Kansas reported power outages because warmer temperatures created sleet and ice on power lines, said Sharon Watson, spokesperson for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.
The snowstorm had been predicted well in advance, convincing schools and offices to close and keeping a lot of people off the roads, said Watson. On the positive side, the snow also meant some relief for drought-stricken regions of the Great Plains, one of the world's biggest wheat-growing areas.
In Oklahoma, up to 12.5 inches of snow fell in northern parts of the state while schools were closed throughout the Oklahoma City area because of treacherous driving conditions.
Areas of southwest and central Nebraska received eight inches of snow overnight, according to the National Weather Service. Omaha and Lincoln were bracing for about eight or more inches of snow.
Even as students were making their way to school this morning in Iowa, administrators in dozens of districts announced early dismissals.
Few of the 150 members of the Iowa General Assembly were in the state capitol in Des Moines this morning, deciding not to brave the weather.
Snow from the powerful storm fell as far south as Tucson, Arizona, on Wednesday. The rare snowfall halted play at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play tournament near Tucson.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Additional reporting by Ian Simpson, Ben Berkowitz, Keith Coffman in Denver, Suzi Parker in Little Rock, Kay Henderson in Des Moines, Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City and Tim Bross in St. Louis; Editing by Greg McCune, Jeffrey Benkoe, Bob Burgdorfer and Jim Marshall)