The ice, man, cometh to the nation’s middle, Northeast

(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 said a stretch from Wyoming east to Maine will get socked with snow.

That agency’s website cites winter storm warnings for much of the nation’s midsection and into northern New England. CNN’s weather unit estimates that 120 million people are in this system’s path.

Residents of Topeka, Kansas, should see 7 to 11 inches of flakes by the end of the day. And Boston could get more than 10 inches Wednesday.

But the ice is coming. Freezing rain warnings have been issued for large parts of Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area, where trees, power lines and roads could be coated by early Wednesday.

After enduring a recent record-breaking snow, New Yorkers could get a mix of snow and sleet beginning Tuesday night that could encrust the city with nearly half an inch of ice by Wednesday.

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 0.75 inches of ice accumulation that could lead to as many as 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 the nightmare may come sooner elsewhere.

In Arkansas, the prospect of freezing rain spurred Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday morning to tell nonessential state employees to stay home. The weather service issued a storm warning, predicting up to half an inch of ice for much of the state, including the capital of Little Rock, through 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET).

Arkansas is on the western edge of freezing rain forecast through Tuesday night — a line that stretches east-northeastward into Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and points east.

Generally, places north of that line will get snow, and those south will get rain.

In Three Rivers, Michigan, CNN iReporter Diana Etman took pictures of mountains of snow in a Walmart parking lot. “I was very much surprised at how big they were,” the 56-year-old registered nurse said.

But it’s what happens after whatever falls to the ground — especially once temperatures dip below freezing in some areas after nightfall — 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 may have melted from the storm that dumped a record 8 inches on New York’s Central Park may have refrozen overnight.

Ice could become even more of a problem after fresh snow begins early Wednesday in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“Then the warm air comes in, and it rains — and it’s going to be 32,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “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.

Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, could see up to a foot of snow by Tuesday’s end. And more than a foot of snow is predicted through Wednesday for much of Upper New York state, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The weather will mean headaches not just for those hoping to hit the road, but also those trying to fly.

More than 800 flights were canceled by late Tuesday morning, and more than 3,000 were delayed within, into or out of the United States, according to FlightAware.com.

The most affected airport — with more than 100 cancellations — was O’Hare International in Chicago, which just finished its third-snowiest January ever.

This is 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 Maine.

The third one may be the worst, forecasters said.

Myers, the CNN meteorologist, said that a massive nor’easter could bear down 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.”

By Greg Botelho

CNN’s Tom Watkins, Ed Payne, Chandrika Narayan, Catherine E. Shoichet and Haimy Assefa contributed to this report.

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