Much of U.S. staggers under what is called a monster storm

This is a montage of three satellilte images taken Monday. U.S. state boundaries are overlaid. Photo: U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Thousands of flights have been canceled across the United States, as ice, snow and hail from a winter storm is affecting nearly half of the country.

The weather system forced the international airport in the southwestern city of Dallas to close for two hours, and caused major delays and cancellations in Chicago. More than 6,400 flights throughout the country were canceled.

The National Weather Service is urging people to stay inside, calling travel impossible and conditions life threatening. The storm is expected to be one of the largest in recent years.

The U.S. National Weather Service said that this winter storm could easily be “one of the worst this season with blizzard conditions throughout much of the Midwest states, severe ice accretion from the middle Mississippi River valley eastward through parts of the Ohio Valley and into southern New England and heavy rain and severe thunderstorms over the deep south.”

The midwestern cities of Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago braced for the biggest impact, with more than 46 centimeters of snow and wind gusts of up to 64 kph (40 mph) expected. The University of Missouri closed through Wednesday.

Continental Airlines said that flights from Newark, New Jersey, had been suspended until at least noon today. Juan SantamarĂ­a airport in Alajuela reported the normal arrival of flights from Texas and Atlanta Tuesday night.

President Barack Obama was briefed Tuesday by the heads of two government agencies on federal preparations for the storm. The White House was urging citizens to monitor the news for updates and take steps needed to be prepared for the storm.

The weather conditions forced Obama to reschedule a trip
planned for Wednesday to a university in Pennsylvania. He instead travels on Thursday.

In a region that rarely slows down in winter conditions, Midwesterners are preparing to stay home and are stocking up on emergency supplies.

Several governors have already declared a state of emergency. In Missouri, nearly 600 National Guard troops have been mobilized.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency began Monday sending emergency personnel, water, food, bedding and generators to areas expected to be hit.

Nine states were under blizzard warnings Tuesday, and Chicago is expecting two feet of snow by the Tuesday evening commute and overnight. Residents of Oklahoma City were experiencing snow and gusty winds and expecting up to one and a half feet of snow. On the southern end of this system, severe storms moved through Texas Tuesday morning, while areas from Birmingham to Memphis and Atlanta were expected to receive between 1 and 2 inches of heavy rainfall.

The U.S. northeast is expecting snow, sleet and rain. Some northeastern U.S. cities have already recorded record snowfall and more is expected from this storm. Philadelphia has already recorded 37 inches of snow and New York City has received 56 inches. Philadelphia expected freezing rain Tuesday while New York City was forecast to receive between 3 and 6 inches of snow and sleet and between a quarter to 4 tenths of an inch of ice accumulation by late Wednesday.

As the system continues east, the National Weather Service is forecasting a large snowfall for New England. Boston is forecast to receive between 8 and 18 inches of snow and Portland, Maine, is expected to receive between 11 and 17 inches. It has already been a long winter in the U.S. northeast and today is the first day of February, a month known to be the snowiest of the season.

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