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Arctic invasion: Brutal weather system threatens most of US with snow, ice, wind

An enormous, brutal mass of arctic air is shoving south over most of the U.S. — threatening 32 million people for the rest of the week with snow, ice, wind and extraordinary drops in the temperature.

Some of the country's biggest cities are being hit: Ice threatens to knock out power in Dallas, Denver could get almost a foot of snow, and Chicago could plunge from the mid-50s on Wednesday to the low teens by Friday night.

"This cold air is going to overtake just about the entire country," said Carl Parker, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

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Parts of northeast Minnesota woke up Wednesday to more than 26 inches of new snow, with another foot expected throughout the day. The State Patrol said it responded to 175 vehicle crashes attributed to the snow between midnight and noon Wednesday.

Saint Louis County Deputy Sheriff Adam Kleffman said driving too fast in icy conditions was the biggest factor.

"They're not taking the extra time to get to where they're going," Kleffman told NBC station KRII of Chisholm. "When we've got over 12 inches of snow, it's going to take you a considerable amount of time to get anywhere that you're going."

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The weather system is also expected to bring heavy snow to the Rockies and ice to the Plains. But it is most notable for its incredible reach. Only the coastal states of the East are expected to be spared.

In Pullman, Wash., the temperature fell below zero Wednesday for the first time in almost three years. In Oregon, authorities closed part of Interstate 84 on Tuesday as trucks jackknifed in the snow.

In California, temperatures Wednesday fell into the 30s in typically mild San Francisco. In the Central Valley, where 85 percent of the citrus crop is still on the vine, growers are worried about devastating damage.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas for Thursday. In Lubbock, Texas, the high Tuesday was 77. The low Saturday morning could be below 10.

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The weather service reported 6 inches of snow at Jacob Lake, Ariz., while the temperature at Ely, Nev., reached minus-17 early Wednesday and the wind chill overnight hovered at about minus-30.

Provo, Utah, more used to snow this time of year, got 8½ inches Tuesday, and the airport at Salt Lake City got 5.8 inches, shattering the record for the date by more than 2 inches.

Texas and the Mid-South — as far south as Dallas and all the way up to Paducah, Ky. — faced what Kevin Noth, a lead meteorologist for The Weather Channel, called "the big ice threat," as much as an inch.

"We measure ice in thickness," he said, "and generally speaking, a half-inch is significant because it weighs down the trees and the power lines, causing power outages."

The ice threat for the second half of the week will come as the arctic air mass combines with moisture streaming north from the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Dakotas, the extreme cold posed a threat to cattle ranchers, who lost thousands of their stock in a blizzard in early October. The good news is that cattle have grown some of their winter hair by now, providing insulation.

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"Cattle are a hardy species," Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, told The Associated Press. "They can endure a lot."

In Grand Forks, N.D., a 54-year-old woman was seriously injured when her pants leg got caught in a snow blower Wednesday morning. Firefighters and paramedics freed her only after cutting some of the machine's metal blades, NBC station KVLY of Grand Forks reported.

Daniella Silva of NBC News contributed to this report.