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Posted on Wed. Dec. 26, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Winter storm to blast region

A winter storm packing gusty winds was expected to hit the Fort Wayne area this morning and leave behind 5 to 7 inches of snow, forecasters said.

The snow could start as early as 5 or 6 a.m., with the chance of heavy snowfall tapering off in the late afternoon or early evening, said Nick Greenawalt of the National Weather Service in Syracuse.

The snowfall total in Fort Wayne will likely be on the lower end of the 5-to-7-inch range, Greenawalt said. Higher amounts are predicted for areas south and east of the city.

“We’re kind of getting skirted in the Fort Wayne area by the heaviest snowfall,” he said.

Greenawalt said wind gusts of 30 to 35 mph could lead to white-out conditions, especially later in the morning and in the afternoon.

“That could create some hazardous conditions on the roadways during that stretch,” he said.

Other parts of Indiana could see a foot of snow or more by this evening, choking highways and snapping power lines, forecasters said. “People need to not travel. They need to just go where they’re going to be and stay there,” said Rachel Trevino, a weather service meteorologist in Paducah, Ky., which covers southwest Indiana.

Meteorologist John Kwiatkowski said up to 11.5 inches of snow could fall in Indianapolis by this evening, and some areas west and south of the city could get as much as 14 inches. The snowstorm could be the biggest to hit Indianapolis in nearly four years, the weather service said.

On Tuesday, a twister outbreak left damage across the Deep South while holiday travelers in the nation’s much colder midsection battled sometimes treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions.

Conditions were volatile throughout the afternoon and into the night with tornado warnings in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The storms were blamed for two deaths, several injuries, and left homes from Louisiana to Alabama damaged.

In Mobile, Ala., a tornado or high winds damaged homes and knocked down power lines and large tree limbs in an area just west of downtown around nightfall, said Nancy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Mobile County Commission. WALA-TV’s tower camera captured a large funnel cloud headed toward downtown.

“We haven’t verified what it was, but we have an area that we heard has damage to homes,” she said.

Meanwhile, blizzard conditions were hitting the nation’s midsection.

Earlier in the day, winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck in the Houston area, killing the driver. Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, and the Highway Patrol says a 28-year-old woman was killed in a crash on a snowy U.S. Highway near Fairview.

The snowstorm that caused numerous accidents pushed out of Oklahoma late Tuesday, carrying with it blizzard warnings for parts of northeast Arkansas, where 10 inches of snow was forecast. Freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines in Arkansas and winds gusts up to 30 mph whipped them around, causing about 71,000 customers to lose electricity.

At least three tornadoes were reported in Texas, though only one building was damaged, according to the National Weather Service.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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