ST. LOUIS -- Powdery snow, up to a foot and a half in some places, bombarded much of the nation's midsection Thursday, impeding travel and shutting down airports, schools and state legislatures.
The widespread winter storm system swirled to the north and east Thursday night, its snow, sleet and freezing rain prompting winter storm warnings in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.
Corey Mead, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the winter storm would be centered in the upper Midwest by this morning.
"Even across Kansas, the snowfall rates should continue to taper off through the evening,'' Mead said.
The system left behind impressive snow accumulations, especially in western Kansas, where 17 inches fell in Hays.
Several accidents and two deaths were blamed on icy and slushy roadways; two people died in crashes Wednesday. 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, with it falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour or more in some spots.
Topeka, Kan., got 3 inches of snow in a 30-minute period, leaving medical center worker Jennifer Carlock to dread the drive home.
"It came on fast,'' Carlock said as she shoveled around her car. "We're going to test out traction control on the way home.''
Snow totals passed the foot mark in many places: the Kansas cities of Hutchinson, Macksville and Hanston all saw 14 inches, and Wichita, Kan., had 13 inches. A few places in far northern Oklahoma saw between 10 to 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.
Transportation officials in affected 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.
In Iowa, visibility was down to a quarter- to a half-mile on some southern and central Iowa roads, the state Department of Transportation said Thursday evening.
Driving in the region's cities wasn't much better. Richard Monroe, 27, technology manager and marketing representative for the Missouri State University bookstore in Springfield, and eight of his colleagues arrived in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday for a conference.
He said a shuttle bus that was taking participants from the Weston Crown Center hotel to Bartle Hall, about five minutes away, got stuck in the snow and then ran into a truck. The vehicle was incapacitated for nearly two hours.
"We saw today that Kansas City is just shut down. I've never seen a big city like this where nothing is moving,'' Monroe said.
But some people came down with cabin fever, like Jennifer McCoy of Wichita, Kan. She loaded her nine children -- ages 6 months to 16 years -- in a van for lunch at Applebee's.