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Severe US Storm Brings Heavy Snow, Hail

CHICAGO, March 23 (Reuters) - A major early spring storm brought heavy snow, severe thunderstorms and floods as it moved east across the United States on Saturday, closing highways and causing a pileup involving dozens of vehicles.

Baseball-sized hail was reported in northern Florida, along with possible tornadoes, while heavy snow in Colorado and Kansas delayed flights and shut down part of Interstate-70.

A crash involving up to 50 vehicles closed part of Interstate-25 near Loveland, Colorado, north of Denver. There did not appear to be major injuries, but many cars needed to be moved off the road, said Mindy Crane, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

More than 200 miles of I-70 were closed in both directions from near Denver to Colby, Kansas, due to poor visibility.

"All in all, this is a pretty nasty storm," said AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Tom Kines.

Crane said there was no estimate for the reopening of the I-25. "We're seeing 40-miles-per-hour gusts."

The snow in the Loveland area was reported to be at least 10 to 12 inches deep, she said.

Snow delayed arriving flights at Denver International Airport, said spokesman Heath Montgomery.

The snow was expected to move east to Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, over the next 24 hours, before moving into the mid-Atlantic states, Kines said.

Rough weather also was forecast in the Gulf Coast region from Florida to eastern Texas throughout Saturday, with large hail, damaging winds and possible tornadoes, Kines said.

In northern Florida, the National Weather Service in Jacksonville had reports of high winds and possible tornado touchdowns, though no twisters have been confirmed, according to meteorologist Phil Peterson.

Peterson said the weather service also had reports of baseball-sized hail west of Lawtey, Florida, early in the afternoon. Lake City received two inches of heavy rain in 30 minutes, he said.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Keith Coffman; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Brunnstrom)