(Refiles to correct direction of storm from westward to eastward in 1st paragraph)
By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb 4 (Reuters) - An unusually heavy winter storm was blanketing Kansas with what forecasters said could be up to 10 inches of snow on Tuesday, and the deluge was expected to make a quick march eastward across the U.S. Midwest and into New England.
The band of heavy, wet snow forced the closing of many state offices and schools throughout the region, as authorities advised people to stay in their homes and the National Weather Service (NWS) warned of "extremely difficult travel conditions."
Interstate 70, a key road artery connecting Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, was closed in both directions early on Tuesday near Columbia, Missouri, after several tractor-trailer trucks collided due to slippery conditions and poor visibility, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.
"Kansas City and eastern Kansas is going to get a lot of snow," said Greg Carbin, meteorologist for the NWS Storm Prediction Center. "It's remarkable weather. Winter is entrenched. It doesn't appear to be wanting to go anywhere."
More than 3,700 flights were delayed on Tuesday and more than 1,200 were canceled by midday, according to Flightaware.com, a website that tracks air traffic.
The storm system set up Monday night over southwestern Kansas and was peaking over Kansas City on Tuesday, said NWS meteorologist Dan Hawblitzel. Only about 3 percent of the winter storms that hit Kansas City total more than six inches of snow, so this event is uncommon, he noted.
The storm system is carrying a heavy swath of snow through the central United States and is forecast to track east and north into Pennsylvania, New York and New England by Wednesday.
"This will hit about two-thirds of the country," Hawblitzel said.
Icy conditions were wreaking havoc in Arkansas early Tuesday, with multiple accidents reported on several major traffic arteries, said Arkansas highway officials.
Conditions were most hazardous in the northwestern corner of the state, near the borders with Missouri and Oklahoma.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe directed that only "essential" state employees were to report to their jobs in the Little Rock area.
The incoming snow comes after a fast-moving winter storm hit the U.S. Northeast on Monday, forcing flight cancellations throughout the region and tying up road traffic the day after the NFL's Super Bowl championship game in New Jersey.
On Sunday, the famed groundhog "Punxsutawney Phil" emerged from his burrow in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, saw his shadow and - as the legend goes - predicted six more weeks of winter. (Reporting by Carey Gillam, additional reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Arkansas; editing by G Crosse)
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