ST. LOUIS - Powdery snow bombarded much of the nation's midsection Thursday, leaving as much as 17 inches in some places, shutting down airports, schools and state legislatures.
The storm system swirled to the north and east Thursday night, its snow, sleet and freezing rain prompting winter storm warnings from Kansas to Illinois. Forecasters say the storm will continue its crawl overnight, hitting the upper Midwest by this morning.
The system has already left impressive snow accumulations, especially in Kansas, where a foot and half of snow fell in Hays. Farther east in Topeka, 3 inches of snow fell in only 30 minutes.
Numerous accidents and two deaths were being blamed on the icy, slushy roadways. Most schools in Kansas and Missouri, and many in neighboring states, were closed Thursday, and legislatures shut down in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said it was "pouring snow" earlier Thursday, falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour or more in some spots.
Northern Oklahoma saw between 10 and 13 inches of snow. Missouri's biggest snow total was 10 inches, shared by the Kansas City metropolitan area, Rockport in the northwest corner and Moberly in the central part of the state.
But the highest amounts were in Kansas, where snow totals hit 14 inches Hutchinson, Macksville and Hanston, and 13 inches in Wichita.
Transportation officials in affected those states urged people to simply stay home.
"If you don't have to get out, just really, please, don't do it," Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said. Interstate 70 through Kansas was snow-packed, and a 200-mile stretch between Salina and Colby was closed.
The storm brought some relief to a region that has been parched by the worst drought in decades.
Vance Ehmke, a wheat farmer near Healy, Kan., said the nearly foot of snow was "what we have been praying for." Climatologists say 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.
Areas in the Texas Panhandle also had up to 8 inches of snow, and in south central Nebraska, Grand Island reported 10 inches of snow.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Thursday. All flights at Kansas City International Airport were canceled for Thursday night, and more than 320 flights at Lambert Airport in St. Louis were canceled.