Philadelphia, Dec 9 (AP) - A powerful storm that crept across the U.S. dumped a mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet on the Mid-Atlantic region and headed northeast Sunday, turning National Football League playing fields in Pennsylvania into winter wonderlands, threatening as much as a foot (30 centimeters) of snow in Delaware and New Jersey, and raising concerns about a messy morning commute.
The storm forced the cancellation or delays of thousands of flights across the U.S. and slowed traffic on roads, leading to a number of accidents, including a fatal crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Morgantown that led to a series of fender-benders involving 50 cars.
What was forecast in the Philadelphia area to be a tame storm system with about an inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow followed by rain mushroomed into a full-blown snowstorm that snarled traffic along Interstate 95 in Pennsylvania from the Delaware to New Jersey state lines.
The National Weather Service said the low pressure system from North Carolina north to the New England states was being fed by disturbances from the southwest and moist air off the Atlantic.
The forecast called for the wintry mix to continue through Sunday, turning to rain early Monday. Total snow accumulation in some sections of southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey could reach 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 centimeters) , while other areas could see as little as an inch or two (2.5 or 5 centimeters), said Valerie Meola, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey.
The snow fell so heavily in Philadelphia on Sunday that yard markers at Lincoln Financial Field - where the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Detroit Lions in a pro football game- were completely obscured. It was almost as bad in Pittsburgh, where the snow intensified after opening kickoff between the Steelers and Miami Dolphins.
Philadelphia fan Dave Hamilton, of Ivyland, layered up for the game, wearing an Eagles shirt topped with an Eagles sweatshirt and Eagles winter coat.
"Twenty-seven years I've been a season-ticket holder, I've never seen snow at the game like this," he said. "It just kept coming down. But we are all having fun out there."
Philadelphia International Airport had a temporary ground stop Sunday afternoon with snow totals around 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters). Spokeswoman Stacey Jackson said a number of passengers were expected to remain in the airport overnight since area hotels had been full for several days. She said staff would hand out pillows and blankets to travelers to make them "feel at home even though they are not."
Air passengers in the Washington-area experienced increasing delays as the season's first real snowstorm set in. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said many flights had been delayed at Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.
Virginia, parts of West Virginia and the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area braced for blackouts under steady freezing rain, wet snow and sleet. Parts of northwest and southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia were getting snow, while sleet and freezing rain prevailed west and north of Richmond.
In Maryland, a chain-reaction accident on Interstate 81 in Washington County involving more than 20 vehicles delayed snow removal efforts for hours. The highway was closed for more than three hours after a tractor-trailer ran into the median to avoid cars that had spun out. It was hit by another tractor-trailer that overturned and spilled its load. Several other tractor-trailers ran off the road and jackknifed as their drivers tried to avoid the crash.
North Texas started to thaw out slightly Sunday after two days of a near standstill with icy roads and low temperatures. About 400 departures from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were canceled Sunday. It will likely be a couple of days before the ice that's coated the region melts completely. The airport is still trying to clear out thousands of travelers who have been sleeping at the terminal or in nearby hotels since the storm hit Thursday night.