By Brendan O’Brien and Suzannah Gonzales
MILWAUKEE/CHICAGO (Reuters) – A major winter storm swept across the U.S. Midwest on Friday, dumping nine inches (23 cm) of snow on Chicago and snarling hundreds of flights as it headed east to threaten New York and New England with heavy accumulations and dropping temperatures.
The snowfall caused dozens of crashes on icy Chicago expressways as residents of the third-biggest U.S. city struggled to get to work and to dig out from a storm system stretching from western Montana to southern Michigan.
“If you want to know the definition of ‘I tried so hard, but in the end it didn’t even matter,’ try shoveling snow in Chicago today,” wrote Twitter user Art Escape, referring to the lyrics of a song by Linkin Park.
Chicago was blanketed with six to nine inches (15 to 23 cm) on Friday morning in the heaviest snowfall across the metropolitan area since at least late 2016, said Todd Kluber, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Chicago.
In Detroit, weather forecasters warned that snow could fall at a rate of more than one inch (2.5 cm) an hour as it heads east.
The National Weather Service said the system could drop up to 14 inches (36 cm) of snow in some areas. The heavy snow is forecast to move into upstate New York and New England by early Saturday.
City officials announced school closures in Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee because of the weather.
About 1,250 U.S. flights were canceled, with about one in five flights into or out of Chicago and Detroit airports called off, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks airline traffic.
United Airlines said on Twitter that waivers were in effect for snow-hit areas this week, allowing travelers to change flights without charges. Delta Air Lines offered to re-book flights on Friday for 18 Midwest cities.
Wind chill temperatures were expected to drop below 0 Fahrenheit (-18 C) in many areas across the region, and officials warned of limited visibility on roads. The central and northern Rockies also will see heavy snow, the weather service said.
Winter weather this week killed people in accidents in the Midwest, including six in Iowa, two in Missouri and one in Montana, local media in those states reported.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Frank McGurty and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Peter Graff and Phil Berlowitz)