A fierce winter storm blew in from the Pacific, bringing up to 2 feet of snow, icy wind and a nightmare for holiday travelers already stymied by winter's dance across the northern half of the country.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain caused treacherous driving conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sections of two major highways - Interstate 90 in Oregon and Interstate 84 in Washington - were closed late Saturday night, and authorities asked the public to not to drive unless it was an emergency.

"It is extremely dangerous to be on the roads at this time," said Multnomah County Deputy Paul McRedmond, sheriff's spokesman.

Centralia, about 25 miles south of Olympia, had already received 9 inches Saturday night. The Seattle area was predicted to get 4 to 8 inches. Portland and the rest of Oregon's Interstate 5 corridor could get as much as 10 inches.

"It'll be nasty well into Sunday evening," said Jonathan Wolfe, a Weather Service meteorologist.

Wind forecasts were downgraded Saturday night for the Cascade Range foothills east and south of Seattle. Winds flowing through the Cascades from Eastern Washington were steady at 20-30 mph with gusts to 50, some 20-30 mph less than expected, meteorologist Dana Felton said.

Authorities closed a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 84 from the Portland suburb of Troutdale to East Hood River, Oregon, and Interstate 90 across Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Range, Washington's main east-west roadway. There was no indication how long the highways would be closed.

The storm settling over the Northwest on the first official day of winter was the third major cold-weather system to punch the country in two days. Northeasterners dug out Saturday from several inches of snow the night before as Midwesterners dealt with yet another stinging, numbing storm.

As of Saturday, the December snowfall total in Bismarck, N.D., nearly equaled the 19.3-inch mark for of all last winter, said Weather Service meteorologist Joshua Scheck.

"The thing about North Dakota is that it's extreme," Scheck said. "For several years we haven't had an aggressive winter like this."

The wintry weather claimed a fatality in Milwaukee on Saturday when a man shoveling snow at a mobile home park collapsed and died.

Winter weather warnings were posted throughout Minnesota, including a blizzard warning for the southwest.

"If you get caught in this stuff, it really is life-threatening," said Dan Miller, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service in Duluth.

Authorities warned that the storm could deliver a wallop as it moved eastward, potentially knocking out power to places still in the dark more than a week after a Northeast ice storm.

Gov. John Lynch of New Hampshire, where more than 20,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark Saturday, noted the long wait and the specter of further power failures wrought by up to 16 inches of snow forecast for the southern part of the state.

"I continue to hear frustration from the local communities regarding communication with the utilities, and I share their frustration," he said.

Friday's storm in the Northeast continued to wreak havoc where it blew through earlier, including Indiana, where more than 77,000 customers remained without power. The next storm in line could further damage trees and power lines already covered or weakened by ice, the Weather Service said.