Image: Storm hits Utah commuters
Jeffrey D. Allred  /  AP
Commuters on Interstate 215 near Parleys Canyon sit in stalled traffic during the morning snow storm in Salt Lake County on Tuesday. The storm is very similar to those that kicked off the winter season in 2008 and 2007 in the second week of December and lasted for several weeks.
updated 12/8/2009 11:48:06 PM ET 2009-12-09T04:48:06

A fierce winter storm hammered more than a dozen states Tuesday with dangerous ice, heavy snow and vicious winds that threatened to create 15-foot drifts in parts of the Upper Midwest.

As much as two-thirds of the country will be affected by the storm by the time it moves off the Maine coast Thursday night, said Jim Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

"It's a monster of a storm," Lee said.

After drenching California with rain and blanketing the mountain West, the storm was expected to bring significant snowfall and blizzard conditions from Utah to the Great Lakes. Wind advisories and warnings were in effect from New Mexico to the Mid-Atlantic states with flooding in the south. Winter storm warnings were likely to be issued in New England by Wednesday.

A foot or more of snow was expected in parts of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, meteorologists said. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph could create snow drifts of 8 to 15 feet.

"It's beautiful — it feels like we moved into the next season," said Ann Marks, a mother of four in Whitefish Bay, Wis., who was buying gloves, hats and scarves. She paused, then added with a smile, "Of course, ask me in a month and it might be a new story."

In rural New York near the Great Lakes where more than 3 feet of snow was expected by the week's end, meteorologists urged residents to deflate blow-up Santas so gusty winds didn't sweep them away.

The storm also brought 100 mph winds to New Mexico, where powerful gusts ripped away the roof of the White Sands Missile Range's police station.

Deadly storm
At least five deaths were blamed on the weather, including a hunter in northern Arizona who was killed Monday night when the top of a large pine tree snapped off and crushed him as he slept in a tent and driver whose sport utility vehicle plunged 90 feet off an icy road into the Texas Panhandle's Palo Duro Canyon.

In two Utah counties alone, there were 155 vehicle accidents involving property damage in 14 hours, the Utah Highway Patrol said. Heavy ice forced road closures in Oklahoma and Arizona.

With travel likely to get worse, officials were warning residents in parts of the west and Midwest to stay close to home. Blizzard warnings were issued for most of Iowa as well as eastern Nebraska, northeastern Kansas, southern Minnesota and southern Wisconsin.

Some grade schools closed before the worst of the storm was expected to hit so that buses wouldn't slip on slick roads, while some universities also canceled Wednesday classes and events.

Slideshow: Fierce wintry storm

"Anybody traveling tomorrow morning is really taking a huge risk I would say — a risk of being stranded and not having anybody be able to help you for 6 or 12 hours, probably," said Karl Jungbluth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Johnston, Iowa.

Flights were snarled in the Midwest and West. Hundreds of flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago; all departures were canceled out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and only a few were scheduled at Des Moines International Airport. Several flights into and out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport were delayed or canceled.

Subzero temperatures caused a scene out of the movie "A Christmas Story," when a boy got his tongue stuck to a metal fence pole. Firefighters in Boise, Idaho, used a glass of warm water to free the boy, who they said was about 10 years old. Fire Capt. Bill Tinsley says the boy's tongue was bleeding a little, but he was allowed to continue walking to school.

Heavy rain in South
Heavy rain pounded some parts of the South. More than 4 inches were reported in spots in New Orleans, and flooded traffic slowed morning commutes. The storm also produced high winds and a possible tornado near Lake Pontchartrain, the National Weather Service said.

The storm had hit much of the West on Monday with subzero wind chills in Washington state and heavy snow that closed schools and government offices in Reno, Nev. In the Phoenix area, fierce wind brought down power lines, leaving four hospitals temporarily without power and creating wide outages.

Big rigs were left jackknifed across highways in several states.

Officials in northern Arizona closed stretches of Interstate 17 and I-40 for part of the day, saying some areas were snow-packed and visibility levels were near zero. The storm dumped more than 20 inches of snow over Flagstaff, more than four times the record of 5 inches set in 1956.

Cold temperatures also were threatening California crops, where only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the navel and mandarin orange crops have been harvested, said Bob Blakely, director of industrial relations for the California Citrus Mutual.

"We've got a lot on the line," Blakely said. "Both of them combined you're probably looking at over a billion dollars in fruit hanging out there on the trees."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Wild weather from Colorado to Connecticut

  1. Closed captioning of: Wild weather from Colorado to Connecticut

    >> we have a big storm to talk about tonight. it is hard to remember a single storm quite this large that takes up quite this much of the country, specifically more than half of the united states . t it this way, by tonight, the clouds from this one storm will stretch from colorado to connecticut, the rain arriving here in new york tonight is connected to the blizzard going on in iowa . and just to see what this storm can do and what more it will do along the way, our friend and weather channel meteorologist mike seidel is in iowa taking it in the right ear tonight where blizzard warnings are posted through the night. hey, mike.

    >> reporter: hey, brian. good evening from des moines where we've been watching the weather go downhill all afternoon. we've got the heavy snow. the only ingredient missing for a blizzard is the wind. gusts over 40 will virtually shut down the midwest to travel and transportation. let's go to the radar and show you where it's snowing now. hard snow, heavy snow. six to ten inches in parts of kansas. that extends to nebraska. iowa under a blizzard warning starting at 9:00 going through 8:00 tomorrow evening because once the snow ends, we'll have ground blards. this wind will not die out until this time tomorrow night. the track of the storm going through mid america racing northeast to lake superior . along with that track heavy areas of snow. six to 12 inches . not anything near record in that dark purple. you combine that with 40 to 50 mile-an-hour wind gusts, it's the perfect prescription for a blizzard. snow drifts could be as high as 10 to 12 feet. that will shut down thorough fairs here. temperatures are 28 in des moines . by noon tomorrow, wind chills dropping down to 10. ground blizzards tomorrow will make travel next to impossible. i'm expecting major interstates to be shut down. no need for the shovels with this one from boston to new york to philadelphia.

    >> as the plows go beirut on cue. 12 inches or more not uncommon. weather channel methamphetami saying tornados not out of the question with this system. mike, thanks.

    >> we switch to news from

    >>>

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