A major winter storm cut power to tens of thousands of customers today, canceled hundreds of airline flights and gave schoolchildren from Iowa to New England an early start on their holiday break.

A major winter storm cut power to tens of thousands of customers today, canceled hundreds of airline flights and gave schoolchildren from Iowa to New England an early start on their holiday break.

"I'm going to leave town as soon as I'm able. I can't continue to do winter in Chicago," said Patricia Singleton, whose commute downtown from a Chicago suburb took three times as long as it normally does.

"We expected this, so I prepared and left early," said Singleton, 50. "But I've had enough. My husband is retiring in three years and I told him we've got to move south."

More than 300 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and ahead of the storm, nearly 600 were canceled at New York City-area airports.

Runways at Milwaukee's airport were closed for much of the morning because snowplows could not keep up with "whiteout conditions," airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said.

Snowfall affected a large region, but the worst of the ice storm — and resulting power outages — was in a band across northern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Power companies reported 60,000 customers in Illinois without service this morning, 120,000 in Indiana, and more than 35,000 in Ohio.

Freezing rain was also a problem in Iowa, but authorities there said only scattered power outages were reported, because there wasn't much wind to bring ice-laden tree limbs down onto power lines.

Up to a foot of snow was forecast across much of Michigan, and some areas reported wind gusts of up to 25 to 30 mph. The predicted snow total would threaten a Detroit record for the date set in 1973, when 8.7 inches fell at the airport.

Schools were closed across the region.

In the Northeast, hard hit by last week's ice storm, snowfall totals of up to 15 inches were forecast. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick asked nonessential state employees to stay home.

In New Hampshire, several thousand homes and businesses were still in the dark more than a week after last week's storm. Gov. John Lynch said authorities were hoping to get utilities to improve their communication with customers.

"I certainly understand that people in New Hampshire are cold, they're tired, and in many cases they're frustrated, especially with Christmas coming," Lynch said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, wintry weather had made life miserable in parts of the West. A record December snowfall of 3.6 inches was recorded in Las Vegas, while in Spokane, Wash., nearly 2 feet of snow fell.

———

Associated Press writers Rupa Shenoy in Chicago and Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.