Tim McNelis uses a lawn tractor to clear the pavement of snow in Indianapolis. Picture: Brent Drinkut, The Indianapolis Star

New York - A massive winter storm system packing cold air, snow and freezing rain was bearing down on the US East Coast, causing federal and local offices in Washington to close on Monday after it pummelled the central United States over the weekend.

The National Weather Service predicted the storm will bring up to 23cm of snow to the Washington area. Votes scheduled for Monday in the US House of Representatives and Senate were postponed, and District of Columbia Public Schools have cancelled classes.

The storm “is going to be a real mess”, said Bruce Sullivan, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“The main system is injecting a lot of moisture and cold air out over the Southern Plains,” he said. “It's going to bring quite a bit of precipitation.”

Rainfall and snow associated with the system stretched over 2 400km, from south-eastern Colorado to southern Massachusetts, meteorologists said.

About 2 000 flights were cancelled and 5 600 were delayed as of early evening on Sunday due to the storm, according to the airline tracking site FlightAware.com.

“Ripple-effect flight delays and cancellations are likely to reach nationwide,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Boston and New York City should see only light snowfall, but lingering freezing rain could complicate Monday morning's rush hour for commuters.

By Sunday afternoon, up to nine inches of snow had already fallen on parts of Indiana.

More than 40 000 homes in northeast Ohio were without power due to downed transmission lines, according to Chad Self, a spokesman for utility provider First Energy. Most customers should have power restored by late Monday, the utility said.

Margie Gibson, 60, of Perry, 65km north-east of Cleveland, said the storm disrupted power at her home.

“The power keeps popping on and off every half-hour. It goes off and comes right back on,” she said.

Central Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky were also at risk for heavy ice conditions and power outages, according to AccuWeather.

Though temperatures will not be as frigid as during some other storm systems this winter, when the so-called polar vortex pushed Arctic air across large swathes of the county, the cold air will blanket areas as far south as Texas and North Carolina.

In south-west Missouri, slick conditions were blamed in the death early Sunday of a 13-year-old girl when the driver of the Ford Explorer she was riding in went off the highway and overturned.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported two adults and another child in the vehicle suffered serious injuries, and nobody in the car was wearing a seatbelt.

On Saturday in Colorado, a heavy midday dump of snow led to a 104-vehicle pileup in Denver. One woman was killed and 30 people were admitted to hospital, police and local media said. - Reuters