A snowstorm blamed for at least 12 deaths blew out of the Plains and headed for New England yesterday, promising to give many parts of the country a rare white Christmas while making a mess of holiday travel.
By Christmas night, the storm is forecast to have painted a broad streak of snow from the mountains of Arizona, across the Midwest and all the way to Maine. The forecast was for 10 to 20 inches around Albany, N.Y., which has not had snow on the ground on Christmas since 1985.
"All those people who wanted a white Christmas -- we are going to give it to them," said National Weather Service meteorologist Chuck Tingley in Buffalo, where as much as 11 inches was forecast.
Temperatures yesterday morning were in the teens as far south as the Texas Panhandle.
Since Monday, the weather has been blamed for five deaths in Missouri, three in Oklahoma, three in Kansas and one in New Mexico -- all in traffic accidents.
Windblown snow produced near-whiteout conditions in the hilly Ozarks of Missouri and piled up in drifts. In some places, thick ice formed on top of the snow, making roads treacherous.
New York state's Thruway Authority had trucks and plows ready and urged Christmas Eve travelers to get to their destinations before the snow started falling during the night.
"We have lined up our cots. If necessary we will have sleeping areas for people," said Doug Myers, a spokesman at the Albany airport.
"It won't ruin Christmas at all," said Matthew Cutrone, 23, of Kingston, N.Y., as he waited at the Albany airport for his girlfriend to arrive from North Carolina. "She's never had a white Christmas."
On the West Coast, the Los Angeles airport reported delays of more than an hour for flights headed to storm-affected cities, such as St. Louis.
On the Plains, eight inches of snow fell on parts of Kansas.
"You really don't want to be out in it," said Jerry Appel, working at a filling station in Garden City, Kan. "But it's good! It means a white Christmas."
Wichita has had an inch or more of snow on the ground for Christmas only 11 times since 1888, the weather service said.
With as much as a foot of snow on Monday, parts of Oklahoma were getting their first white Christmas since 1975.
The weather system also spun off thunderstorms and tornadoes that battered parts of Georgia and Alabama and injured at least nine people.