By Greg Botelho
(CNN) — When might someone who has been pummeled by round, after round, after round of snow wish for, of all things, more snow?
When the alternative is ice.
Granted, a huge swath of the United States won’t have that option Tuesday. The National Weather Service’s forecast says a stretch from Wyoming east to Maine will get socked with snow. The CNN weather unit estimates that 120 million people are in the system’s path.
Topeka, Kansas, should see 7 to 11 inches of flakes by the time the day is done, for instance. And it will start later — around 3 a.m. Wednesday, in fact — but Boston could get more than 10 inches Wednesday.
Yet snow isn’t the only thing that could endanger those who dare hit the roads in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the next day or so. There’s also ice.
Freezing rain warnings are out for large parts of Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area, where trees, power lines and roads — highways included — could be coated with ice by early Wednesday.
After a recent record-breaking snow, New Yorkers will get a mixed bag Tuesday night into Wednesday of snow, freezing rain and sleet that may lead to up to .4 inches of ice there.
On the New Jersey emergency management office’s Twitter feed, meteorologist Gary Szatowski said the National Weather Service’s “reasonable worst case scenario” for parts of that state and others nearby call for .75 inches of ice accumulation that may lead to one to five days of power outages.
As Szatowski said: “Some would call that catastrophic.”
Freezing rain prompts Arkansas governor to act
Such conditions are expected to cause a nightmare commute Wednesday morning in and around the New York metro area, among other places.
But others don’t have to wait until then.
In Arkansas, the reality and prospect of freezing rain spurred Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday morning to tell all nonessential state employees to stay away from work.
That state is one of the western-most in a path of freezing rain forecast through Tuesday night — a line that stretches on an east-northeast trajectory into Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and points east.
Generally, places north of that line will get snow and those south will get rain. But it’s what happens after whatever falls to the ground — especially once temperatures dip below freezing once night falls — that has some especially concerned.
And authorities are also telling people to be careful in places where only snow has fallen.
The weather service, for instance, said that whatever snow melted from the storm that dumped a record 8 inches on New York’s Central Park may have frozen again overnight.
Ice could become even more of a problem after fresh precipitation begins falling in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut early Wednesday, followed by cooling weather.
“You say, OK, nothing for New York. Wrong,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said of the expected upcoming accumulation. “(It snows,) then the warm air comes come in, and it rains, and it’s going to be 32. It’s going to be a mess.”
Up to a foot of snow
Not that snow itself won’t make things plenty messy in some places.
At the back end of the storm, Kansas City, Missouri, could see up to a foot by Tuesday’s end. The white stuff will fall many points east as well, with much of Upper New York state, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine likewise probably ending up with more than 12 inches through Wednesday.
All this bad weather will probably mean more headaches — not just for those hoping to hit the road, but also those trying to fly.
More than 2,000 flights were canceled and another 5,000-plus were delayed Monday within, into or out of the United States, according to FlightAware.com, an online site that tracks flight data.
Some stuck travelers had come to northern New Jersey for Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Not that Francois Emond, for one, minded. The Alma, Quebec, resident arrived at Newark airport at 6 a.m. Monday to find his flight home had been canceled. Wearing a Seahawks championship hat and an ear-to-ear smile, he told CNN affiliate WABC that he didn’t care about the cancellation or the weather in light of Seattle’s victory.
“The night will be very short,” he said. “When you win a Super Bowl for the first time, the night is very, very short.”
By 9 a.m. Tuesday, 500 additional flights had been canceled in and out of the United States, FlightAware reported.
The most affected airport — with more than 100 cancellations — was O’Hare in Chicago, which just finished its third-snowiest January ever.
This is all due to the second wintry blast this year for the Northeast. Last month, extreme cold, strong winds and snow pummeled communities from New York to Massachusetts to Maine.
The third one may be the worst so far, forecasters predict.
Myers, the CNN meteorologist, says that a massive nor’easter could bear down in a big way early next week.
“This is the starter,” he said of the current blast of snow, “the appetizer to what’s coming — which is a major nor’easter coming on Monday.”
CNN’s Ed Payne, Chandrika Narayan, Catherine E. Shoichet and Haimy Assefa contributed to this report.
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