By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A winter storm that some forecasters say is the worst to hit the United States in years slammed the nation's midsection early Friday, snarling travel and knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of customers.
The line of ice, snow and freezing temperatures stretched northeast from the Texas-Mexico border to the Ohio Valley, with the worst of the precipitation starting near Dallas and punching through Arkansas and western Kentucky, according to forecasters at AccuWeather.com.
"Every few years there is a blockbuster ice storm somewhere in the U.S., and these storms are no stranger to the South Central region," said Jesse Ferrell, weather expert and storm chaser for AccuWeather.com.
Nearly a quarter-million homes and businesses in the mid-South lost power, with the largest outages in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, according to local utilities.
About 1,000 flights across the nation had been canceled early on Friday, including more than 700 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to online flight trackers.
At least two deaths had been reported on roads in Texas and Missouri, and driving conditions were expected to worsen with more than an inch of ice under layers of snow on some streets, according to police and forecasters.
The National Weather Service said it expected the harsh conditions to continue through Friday and into the weekend, with temperatures about 30 degrees lower than average in some areas.
Forecasters likened the weather to ice storms in January 2009 that knocked out electricity for more than 1 million people in the central and southern parts of the country.
(Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Von Ahn)