Chicago lashed by heavy snow as winter storm grounds 1,000 flights across America

Fiona Simpson
Winter storm: Snow blanketed the streets of Chicago: AP

A huge storm battering America saw almost a foot of snow fall in 24 hours leaving more than 1,000 flights cancelled across a swathe of the country.

The US National Weather Service issued winter weather warnings across the upper Midwest amid fears the storm would cause widespread disruption.

The snow that began falling late on Thursday afternoon is expected to continue throughout Friday as the storm moves east.

As of Friday morning, the National Weather Service received reports of between 9in and 11in of snow over a 24-hour period in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Eight inches was reported in parts of northern Illinois and about 6in was reported in the Chicago area.

A woman struggles to leave her car in Chicago (AP)

Areas of northern Indiana were hit hard, with 8in of snowfall reported in New Carlisle.

Snow across southern and central Michigan ranged from 7in on the western side of the state to more than 2in in the Detroit area.

Skids and crashes were reported on the roads in the Chicago and Detroit areas. A multi-vehicle pile-up closed a stretch of eastbound Interstate 94 near Ann Arbor, but no severe injuries were reported.

A couple walk through snowy streets in Chicago (AP)

About 730 flights were cancelled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and about 265 flights were cancelled at Midway, the Chicago Department of Aviation reported.

More than 200 flights were cancelled at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan.

American, United, Delta and Southwest airlines warned travellers to expect more flight cancellations to and from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Commuters arrive at a snow-covered station (AP)

Meteorologist Heather Orow, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said the storm is "generally going to be an issue for travel".

People should stay off the roads if possible, but if they drive they should expect delays and hazardous conditions, she said.

The expectation of up to 12in around Chicago prompted officials to close the city's public schools to about 390,000 students. Classes were also cancelled in the city's suburbs.

Court closures were reported in Chicago and Detroit, and driver's licence offices were shut in the Chicago area.

Schools in Detroit shut for the day along with Wayne State University in Detroit and other schools across Michigan in the path of the storm. The Detroit area was in line for 6in to 9in of snow.

AAA Michigan recommended that drivers stay off the road if possible.