NEW YORK — A powerful winter storm pounded the nation’s midsection Wednesday, disrupting holiday travel and knocking out power to thousands of homes before heading to the Northeast.
The storm was blamed for at least six deaths.
Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued amid snowy gusts of 30 miles per hour that blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.
‘‘The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex,’’ said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.
The system, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and headed toward the Northeast. Forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow inland from western New York to Maine into Thursday and tapering off into a mix of rain and snow closer to the coast, where little accumulation was expected in such cities as New York and Boston.
The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida would see severe thunderstorms.
Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes and others were implored to avoid it. Snow was blamed for scores of accidents as far east as Maryland, and about two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency travel alerts, urging people to go out on the roads only if necessary.
Some 40 vehicles got bogged down trying to make it up a slick hill in central Indiana, and four state snowplows slid off roads as snow fell at the rate of 3 inches an hour.
Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, and two people, including a 76-year-old Milwaukee woman, were killed Tuesday on Oklahoma highways. Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana.
The day after a holiday wasn’t expected to be particularly hectic for AAA, but its Cincinnati-area branch had its busiest Wednesday of the year. By mid-afternoon, nearly 400 members had been helped with tows, jump starts and other aid, with calls still coming in, spokesman Mike Mills said.
Jennifer Miller, 58, was taking a bus Wednesday from Cincinnati to visit family in Columbus.
‘‘I wish this had come yesterday and was gone today,’’ she said, struggling with a rolling suitcase and three smaller bags on a slushy sidewalk near the station. ‘‘I’m glad I don’t have to drive in this.’’
More than 1,200 flights were canceled by midday, according to FlightAware.com, and some airlines said they would waive change fees. Delays of more than an hour were reported Wednesday at the three New York City-area airports, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
In Arkansas, some of the nearly 200,000 people who lost power could be without it for as long as a week because of snapped poles and wires after ice and 10 inches of snow coated power lines, said the state’s largest utility, Entergy Arkansas. Governor Mike Beebe sent out National Guard teams, and Humvees transported medical workers and patients. Snow hadn’t fallen in Little Rock on Christmas since 1926, but the capital ended Tuesday with 10.3 inches of it.
Other states also had scattered outages. Duke Energy said it had nearly 300 outages in Indiana, with few left in Ohio by early afternoon after scores were reported in the morning.
Behind the storm, Mississippi’s governor declared states of emergency in eight counties.