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Major storm moving east across U.S.

  • Alpine Meadows, California, near Lake Tahoe, gets 42 inches of snow
  • Snow, sleet delays flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport
  • Up to 3 feet of snow expected in Rockies as storm wallops West
  • Parts of Iowa and Minnesota are under a blizzard warning

(CNN) -- The first major storm of the season pounded the western United States before moving eastward into the Colorado Rockies and beyond, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

Alpine Meadows, California, near Lake Tahoe, received 42 inches of snow before the storm moved out of the region Tuesday afternoon, and a foot of snow was forecast to fall in parts of Iowa and Minneapolis. Sections of both states were under a blizzard warning.

In Sacramento, California, it was snowy and 20 degrees -- unusually cold for this time of year, forecasters said -- as Tuesday began, but by the afternoon, temperatures rose to the mid-40s and the snow tapered off, leaving a light dusting. The city opened a shelter Monday, and planned to leave it open until Wednesday evening. Farther north in the Colfax area, roads were cleared of about a foot of snow and traffic was moving steadily along I-80 under sunny skies.

Customers at the Bad Waitress Coffee Shop and Diner in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who are very familiar with snow, weren't too worried.

"I haven't heard too much," said employee Ann Corn of the predicted snowfall. "I kind of expected it. I guess we're glad it came pretty late in the season."

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The storm headed east into the Plains States as the day wore on, then was to move to the Northeast, parts of which were under flood watch Tuesday night, according to the weather service. The storm will pick up moisture from the Great Lakes -- called lake effect snow -- a first for this season.

Snow and sleet rained down on Chicago, Illinois, canceling more than 300 flights at O'Hare International Airport, according to a spokesman for Chicago's Department of Aviation. Flights were running an hour behind Tuesday night at both O'Hare and Midway International Airport, where an additional 25 flights were canceled. The delays were affecting flights throughout the country.

The weather service predicted a low of 34 in Chicago on Tuesday night. The snow was to continue into Wednesday.

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In Kansas City, Missouri, snow, freezing rain and sleet were expected to snarl late-afternoon, rush-hour traffic. The overnight low will dip to 15 degrees, forecasters said.

On the West Coast, the California Highway Patrol shut down the Grapevine section of Interstate 5, a major north-south artery, near Gorman between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

"They told us it was coming, and it's the Grapevine. It snows half an inch, and they shut it down," a motorist told CNN affiliate KTLA-TV.

Truck driver Ruth Sanderson described the dangers of driving in snow in the mountains: "Being turned over, getting stuck up here and not going nowhere," she told CNN affiliate KABC-TV. "You go to the nearest exit and you park ... the best you can. You're stuck there until they open up the roads."

Fellow driver Karen Lobina took a softer view: "I like it. We need the snow, and it's good, even though it's a big hassle to drive in," she told KABC.

Blowing and drifting snow in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest were expected to reduce visibility, likely leading to closures of major highways.

Meanwhile, a strong low-pressure system moving across the southern Rockies brought damaging wind to southern New Mexico and western Texas, the weather service said.

Gusts of nearly 100 mph ripped off roofs, shattered windshields, felled trees and caused power outages in the region, forecasters said.

The police station at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico was heavily damaged, and two people were injured, forecasters said.

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The wind blew into western Texas with gusts near 80 mph in parts of El Paso. Gusts from 60 mph to 70 mph caused "significant damage" elsewhere, forecasters said.

Debris and blowing dust closed several roads around El Paso and Deming, including highway 54, which was closed in El Paso.

"People across the region should avoid travel and going out of doors through the late afternoon," the weather service warned.

Winds are to decrease in the late afternoon and evening as the storm moves further east, forecasters said.

Tornado watches were in effect Tuesday night in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, the weather service said.

It was raining in the South, including in Atlanta, where the wet weather was forecast to continue through the night.