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Deep freeze lingers as snowstorm heads out

Storm Rdp
Pedestrians brave freezing temperatures Thursday in Chicago. The National Weather Service predicted wind chill values as low as negative 25 F in parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois on Thursday. M. Spencer Green / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A deadly, windy storm that paralyzed most of the nation finally appeared ready to move out, but not before causing temperatures below freezing in 13 states and gusts that made it feel as cold as minus 25 on Thursday.

Power failures in the Midwest, stranded hunters in the West and howling winds that helped blow over a bus in New York provided just a few lingering miseries from the first major storm of the season.

Emergency rooms took in people who had slipped and fallen, overdone shoveling or reached their hands into clogged snowblowers, while tow trucks freed drivers from the sides of icy roads and everyday residents simply struggled to get around in the frigid winds.

"Like I stuck my face in the freezer," was how Bincy Mathew described the feeling in Chicago on Thursday, complaining about his watering eyes: "I think they are going to freeze up."

The days-old storm made its first punch in the West before plowing across two-thirds of the country with heavy snow, icy winds, and even lightning and thunder before preparing to blow out to sea off Maine.

On Thursday, commuters from Des Moines to Chicago saw single digit temperatures and icy roads, while the National Weather Service predicted wind chill values as low as minus 25 F in parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Mass outages in Michigan
Michigan residents hunkered down under a blizzard warning as the coldest air of the season crossed Lake Michigan. More than 120,000 people lost power in the state, in the middle of a swath where residents from Iowa to West Virginia and up to Maine were in the dark at some point.

High snow totals, fueled by winds blowing over lakes Erie and Ontario, were possible for parts of New York through Saturday, including south of Buffalo and north of Syracuse.

While less than three inches of snow fell on Buffalo, winds gusting between 50 mph and 60 mph blinded drivers, grounded flights and forced most schools to close. Frequent thunder and lightning lit up the sky before dawn.

A double-decker bus carrying 12 passengers from New York City to Toronto overturned on the New York State Thruway near Buffalo when the driver made an unsafe lane change during the worst of the storm early Thursday, state police said. Nine on board were taken to hospitals with injuries not considered life threatening.

"The winds were just whipping the snow back across the road, and you couldn't get a lane or two cleared or kept cleared," State Police Capt. Michael Nigrelli said.

In Rochester, where a blustery 28-degree day finally dispatched an unseasonably mild fall in upstate New York, Mike Hartman said he was getting in shape for ski season with a lunchtime jog around Cobbs Hill Park with his dog and a friend.

"I did enjoy the mild weather, but I'd rather have snow than sleet and rain and a temperature in between freezing and not freezing," he said.

At least 17 people have died in the meandering storm, including a man found Wednesday outside his pickup truck in central Iowa and a North Carolina driver killed when a tree was blown onto his pickup.

Snowblower accidents
Wisconsin hospitals dealt with an influx of patients, including Lloyd Gleason, who lost a finger and fractured two others in a snowblower. He was one of six victims of snowblower accidents who went to St. Mary's Hospital in Madison on Wednesday.

See images from the dangerous snowstorm that is sweeping across the nation.

"I just didn't think the thing was working, and it was," he told WISC-TV.

While an inconvenience for many, others took an opportunity to play.

At least 3,000 University of Wisconsin-Madison students took advantage of an unplanned day off and hurled snowballs at each other in a massive snowball fight. Classes were canceled for the first time in 19 years due to weather.

Some came holding trays as shields. Others were bundled up to protect themselves from the below-freezing temperatures and winds that gusted to more than 20 mph — though several went shirtless, while at least one had on pajamas.

The Upper Midwest was left under a dome of arctic air that forecasters said would linger into the weekend. As often, the coldest spot was International Falls, a small city along the Canadian border that has proclaimed itself the "Icebox of the Nation."

Jake Haney, who fuels planes at the International Falls Airport, said it was 13 below zero with a steady wind when he got to work at 6:30 Thursday morning. He expected to spend about four hours of his 10-hour shift outside but said he'd be fine as long as he left no exposed skin.

"I enjoy it, kind of," Haney said. "I've lived here my whole life, so I'm used to it at least. It's fresh air. It's better than being trapped inside."

Earlier this week, the storm drenched California in rain, blanketed the mountain West in snow and shattered snowfall records in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Wind gusts of up to 100 mph were reported in New Mexico, wind chills as low as minus 40 hit southern Montana, and heavy rain and flooding affected parts of the South.

In northern Arizona, around a dozen elk hunters remained stranded for a fourth day in below-freezing temperatures, and searchers feared the parties would run out of food and heating fuel before the next storm hit, possibly over the weekend.