By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Mass (Reuters) - Wind, rain and snow blanketed much of the Midwest and Northeast on Thursday, ushering in a more typical winter scene of closed schools and delayed flights after a stretch of unseasonably mild weather.
Snow and driving rain hit the Northeast on Thursday morning as an arctic cold front swept eastward from the Great Lakes, prompting school closings in parts of northern New England.
Heavy, wet snow plastered the sides of trees and utility poles across central and northern New England, falling at more than 1 inch per hour, said meteorologists on AccuWeather.com.
The snow was expected to continue through Friday, with accumulations reaching 6 to 12 inches in parts of Maine, the website said. The snow was set to push farther north, spreading across the rest of Maine later on Thursday.
In the Midwest, snowfall totals reached between 3 and 6 inches across areas of Wisconsin and Michigan by mid-morning with white stuff coming down in parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana as well.
Significant cancellations and delays were reported at Chicago area airports. At O'Hare International Airport, airlines canceled more than 300 inbound and outbound flights, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Snowfall rates expected to climb to about 1 inch per hour could make it difficult for plowing operations to keep up during rush hour, according to the National Weather Service.
NWS snowfall totals in Chicago were expected to be up to 8 inches by early evening, with wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour.
Windchills in the area were forecast to drop temperatures to between zero and 10 below zero by Friday morning, NWS said.
As far south as Tennessee, school systems were scrambling to close early or reschedule after-school activities in order to get students off the roadways before ice and snow arrive.
A blast of cold air was also expected to reach the eastern seaboard by Friday morning, with snow expected north of the I-95 highway corridor, meteorologists on AccuWeather.com said. Sudden chilly temperatures may lead to icy roads and strong winds in some areas, the weather service said.
A thunderstorm lashed New York City on Thursday morning, with 40 mile per hour winds after heavy rainfall the night before.
Rain poured down across southeastern New England, drenching the Boston area with driving rain throughout the morning and gales of up to 50 miles per hour.
In New Hampshire, hundreds of schools were closed or delayed due to snow, according to local officials and television news reports.
"A day like today, it's really the travel issues," said Ed Murdough, a facility administrator at the New Hampshire Department of Education.
"We don't want students standing out waiting for the bus when it's slippery and buses would have a hard time getting where they need to be."
(Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston, Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and Tim Ghianni in Tennessee; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)