A powerful storm blamed for eight deaths in the western United States is surging eastwards and threatening to disrupt Thanksgiving travel plans across swathes of the country.

The arctic mass churned through parts of Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico on Sunday, unleashing wind, ice and snow which forced road closures and flight cancellations. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for parts of north Texas from noon Sunday until midday Monday. Parts of Oklahoma, which woke up to several inches of snow, are also under a winter storm warning. New Mexico reported near white-out conditions on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque.

Meteorologists warned of disruptions to road and air transport in much of the south and east later this week, the busiest travel time of the year. An estimated 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the AAA federation of motor clubs.

"It's certainly going to be a travel impact as we see the first few people making their way for thanksgiving," Tom Bradshaw, of the National Weather Service, told reporters.

Bradshaw said it was difficult to exactly predict which areas would be worst affected: "It's slow moving and it's sort of bringing its energy out in pieces so it's kind of hard to time these as they come across with a great deal of accuracy."

Some parades and sporting events were cancelled in Arizona. American Airlines and American Eagle were planning to cancel some flights in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth international airport, which prepared de-icing equipment. The storm was expected to hit the Carolinas on Monday; by Tuesday it may reach the north-east and mid-Atlantic states.

"We are going to see delays," said CNN meteorologist Melissa Le Fevre. "We're just waiting to see if the impacts are going to be severe or just annoying."

The storm was blamed for at least eight deaths and hundreds of road accidents, including one that injured three members of Willie Nelson's band when their bus hit a pillar on Interstate 30 near Sulphur Springs, about 75 miles north-east of Dallas. Three people reportedly died in a pile-up involving nearly a dozen vehicles in the Texas panhandle.

In southern California, a homeless man had to be rescued from a tree by helicopter and four others were plucked from an island after becoming trapped in the swollen Santa Ana river in San Bernardino County.

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