By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - A major wind and snow storm downed power lines, closed highways and schools and grounded hundreds of flights over a wide swath of the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday.
Blizzard and winter storm warnings were in effect until Thursday morning for parts of Indiana, Michigan and Illinois as the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted as much as 13 inches (33 cm) of snow and winds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour).
"That's creating a lot of blowing and drifting snow and creating very hazardous travel conditions," said Chuck Schaffer, a meteorologist with the NWS in Illinois.
Some 860 flights were canceled on Wednesday at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
The NWS predicted as much as 10 inches (26 cm) of heavy snow and strong gusts in the Chicago area during the afternoon commute and into the evening.
"This will create a wind-whipped snow that will reduce visibilities to near zero, making travel dangerous if not nearly impossible at the height of the storm," it said in an advisory.
The Illinois Department of Transportation reported downed power lines and several crashes on state highways and warned motorists blowing snow and slick roads will make for treacherous conditions.
Hundreds of schools in the Chicago area, northwest Indiana and southern Michigan canceled after-school activities and classes on Thursday.
The storm left about 38,000 households without power in the St. Louis area while a downed power line diverted traffic from a portion of interstate I-270 southwest of the city for seven hours on Wednesday. The highway has since reopened, according to local media.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said state offices in the lower part of the state would close Wednesday afternoon.
“I encourage all Michiganders to ... put safety first, especially while driving and heating their homes," he said in a statement.
State officials in Michigan said emergency water operations will continue through the storm in Flint, a city that has gained national attention for high lead levels in its drinking water. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, however, canceled a town hall meeting on Thursday to discuss the water crisis.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)