Blizzard in U.S. Northern Plains to head east, ease grip

(Reuters) - A winter storm that threatened the U.S. Northern Great Plains with icy roads, power outages and high winds is expected to ease its grip late on Monday as it moves east into the Great Lakes and New England, forecasters said.

The storm is forecast to bring a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain across parts of northern New England overnight, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

"Farther south, rain and a few thunderstorms are possible

along and ahead of the cold front from the Ohio valley to the lower Mississippi valley and the Southeast tonight and Tuesday," it said.

Even as the storm's grip weakened, authorities in North Dakota, where the front had dumped up to 18 inches (46 cm) of snow, urged travelers in much of the state to stay home because of hazardous conditions.

The NWS reported 19,000 homes or businesses without power in South Dakota, and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co said almost two dozen areas were without electricity. Service in some areas was not expected to be restored for days.

More than 260 flights were delayed or canceled at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and highways across much of Minnesota were covered or partly covered with snow and ice, according to state transportation officials.

The storm also shut some highways in South Dakota, with snow and low visibility cutting speeds on Interstate 90, the state Department of Transportation said.

The NWS reported wind speeds of more than 60 miles per hour (100 kph) in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota as the storm moved through.

Elsewhere, another weather system was expected to move into the Pacific Northwest late on Monday, bringing rain and mountain snow to the Cascades and the region's interior, the weather service said.

Temperatures would be above average across most of the central and eastern United States on Tuesday. East Coast afternoon temperatures were forecast to be 10 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 14 degrees Celsius) above average.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Daniel Trotta in New York and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Tait)

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