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U.S. storm’s toll up to 6 dead as system heads east

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published December 26, 2012 at 6:23 a.m. Updated December 26, 2012 at 11:31 a.m.

— A powerful storm system that erupted Christmas Day with Gulf Coast tornadoes and snow in the nation’s midsection headed for the Northeast on Wednesday, spreading blizzard conditions that slowed holiday travel.

The death toll rose to six with car accidents on snow and sleet-slickened highways in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Post-Christmas travelers braced for flight delays and a raft of weather warnings for drivers, a day after rare winter twisters damaged buildings in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Snow blew across southern Illinois and southern Indiana early Wednesday as the storm tracked up the Ohio River valley toward the Eastern seaboard and New England.

There were whiteout conditions in parts of southwestern Indiana, where 6 inches or more of snow had fallen by midmorning around Evansville. State police reported dozens of vehicles stuck after not being able to get up a hill on a central Indiana highway, while some roads around Evansville were impassable with wind gusts about 30 mph.

A blizzard warning was in effect for much of the state’s southern two-thirds and more than a dozen counties issued travel watches asking residents to make only essential driving trips.

Indianapolis had 7 inches on the ground by 10 a.m. after receiving as much as 3 inches of snow in a single hour, said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis. He said the storm’s winds were just high enough to classify the storm as a blizzard, making it one of the strongest snowstorms in years to strike central and southern Indiana.

“The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex. Just to become a blizzard is quite an accomplishment. And it’s sure a heck of a lot more than we’ve seen,” he said.

Severe thunderstorms were forecast for the Carolinas while a line of blizzard and winter storm warnings stretched from Arkansas up the Ohio River to New York and on to Maine.

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