DES MOINES, Iowa -- A fierce winter storm was leaving dangerous ice, heavy snow and vicious winds in its wake as it slogged eastward early Wednesday, threatening to wreak havoc on morning commuters across the Upper Midwest before crawling into New England.
More than a foot of snow was expected in parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, where the National Weather Service warned of "extremely dangerous blizzard conditions." Wind gusts of up to 50 mph could create snow drifts of 8 to 15 feet.
"Anybody traveling (Wednesday) morning is really taking a huge risk I would say _ a risk of being stranded and not having anybody be able to help you for 6 or 12 hours, probably," said Karl Jungbluth, a weather service meteorologist in Johnston, Iowa.
Special: Get Sarah Palin’s New Book – Incredible FREE Offer -- Click Here Now.
Blizzard warnings also covered eastern Nebraska, northeastern Kansas and southern Minnesota early Wednesday.
Parts of New England girded themselves for bone-chilling wind gusts and snow accumulations of up to a foot by Wednesday afternoon.
The storm, which pounded the West with rain, wind and snow earlier this week, may affect as much as two-thirds of the country by the time it moves off the Maine coast Thursday night, said Jim Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines.
"It's a monster of a storm," Lee said.
Maine and New Hampshire could see snow accumulations of 6 to 10 inches by Wednesday afternoon, capped off by rain and sleet in the evening.
In northern New York, as much as a foot of snow was expected to accumulate Wednesday and more than 3 feet was expected by the week's end near the Great Lakes. Meteorologists urged residents to deflate blow-up Santas so gusty winds didn't sweep them away.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Tuesday; all departures were canceled out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and only a few were scheduled at Des Moines International Airport. Several flights into and out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport were delayed or canceled.
The storm drenched California with rain, blanketed the mountain West with snow and brought 100 mph winds to New Mexico earlier this week. It dumped more than 20 inches of snow over Flagstaff, Ariz. _ more than four times the record of 5 inches set in 1956.
Subzero wind chills were reported in Washington state, while heavy snow closed schools and government offices in Reno, Nev. Fierce wind brought down power lines in the Phoenix area and left four hospitals temporarily without power.
At least five deaths were blamed on the weather, including an Arizona hunter who was killed Monday night when a large pine tree snapped and crushed him as he slept in a tent. The driver of a sport utility vehicle that plunged 90 feet off an icy road into the Texas Panhandle's Palo Duro Canyon also died.
Heavy rain pounded some parts of the South with more than 4 inches reported in spots in New Orleans. A possible tornado was reported near Lake Pontchartrain, the National Weather Service said.
Cold temperatures also were threatening California crops, where only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the navel and mandarin orange crops have been harvested, said Bob Blakely, director of industrial relations for the California Citrus Mutual.
"We've got a lot on the line," Blakely said. "Both of them combined you're probably looking at over a billion dollars in fruit hanging out there on the trees."
Associated Press Writers Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee, Justin Juozapavicius in Oklahoma City, Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Ariz. and Nigel Duara in Iowa City, Iowa contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.