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Death toll from Midwest cold snap climbs to 13

Winter returned with a vengeance Wednesday to the Upper Midwest and Northeast, with snow and below-zero temperatures snarling commutes, canceling flights and closing schools.
John Silvers of Columbus, Ohio, uses a snow blower to clear the sidewalk on Wednesday.
John Silvers of Columbus, Ohio, uses a snow blower to clear the sidewalk on Wednesday.Kiichiro Sato / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

West Virginia called snowplow drivers out of retirement Wednesday as snow and arctic cold blamed for at least 13 deaths since the weekend lingered over the Midwest and the East.

As much as 9 inches of snow fell in West Virginia by Wednesday morning in the state’s first major storm of the season, prompting schools to either close or open late in every county for a second day in a row. More than 20 retired snowplow drivers were called in to help crews struggling to clear roads.

Schools were also shut across of much of Ohio and parts of upstate New York, some for a third straight day.

Some travelers spent the night at airports in the Midwest after their flights to the Northeast were disrupted, and slick roads led to chain-reaction crashes.

There was some relief Wednesday in the Great Lakes region.

Chicago woke up to temperatures around zero with a wind chill of 14 below zero — an improvement over its minus-30 wind chill Monday. The area was expected to rebound into the low 20s by the end of the week, National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Seeley said Tuesday.

The cold air returned to the northern Plains, where Hallock, Minn., had a temperature of 27 below zero early Wednesday, the weather service reported.

Five feet of snow in places
Residents of upstate New York were digging out from lake-effect squalls that dumped more than 5 feet of snow over a two-day period at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The weather service reported 62 inches of snow at Oswego, 35 miles north of Syracuse.

In addition, ferry service was suspended on the Hudson River in upstate New York because the water began freezing over.

Despite the snow, most schools in Oswego County were back in session Wednesday. Meteorologists said some areas in the New York lake-effect snow belt could collect more than 100 inches before the system breaks up, which isn’t expected until at least the weekend.

In Ohio, snow and ice had not been removed from most residential streets in Columbus and Cincinnati, and nearly all schools in those areas were closed Wednesday. Most Cleveland schools were closed for a third straight day.

“We had a couple hundred passengers spend the night at the airport because all the hotel rooms in the area were taken, not just because of canceled flights but because highway travel was virtually impossible,” said Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport spokesman Ted Bushelman.

City of Big Shoulders gets frozen pipes Elsewhere, Chicago city crews responded to more than 1,000 reports of frozen pipes Tuesday, said Department of Water Management spokesman Tom LaPorte. The cold also hampered firefighting efforts because emergency workers had to use propane torches to thaw frozen hydrants.

More than 140 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport, which reported average delays of 45 to 90 minutes for all arrivals and departures Tuesday night, city aviation department spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

“When the snow started falling it impacted visibility,” Abrams said. “That combined with deicing delays have slowed our operations at both airports.”

Minnesota police reported 290 crashes during rush-hour traffic Tuesday. New York state troopers closed a section of Interstate 81 east of Oswego for an hour to remove cars and trucks that went off the road when blowing snow reduced visibility to zero. Ferry service across the Hudson River in upstate New York were suspended because the river began freezing over.

The cold and slippery roads had contributed to at least four deaths in Ohio, two in Illinois, two deaths in Kentucky, two in Michigan, and one each in Wisconsin, Maryland and Indiana, authorities said.