A huge storm spread a smear of ice and snow from the ine traffic, causing record-low temperatures in the Midwest and snapping power lines serving tens of thousands of people.
The snow, sleet and freezing rain were part of a mass of cold air that dropped the temperature to a Jan. 5 record low of 39 below zero in Grand Forks, N.D. Embarrass, Minn., hit 43 below, the National Weather Service (search) said.
School closings were reported from New Mexico to New Jersey, and hundreds of travelers were stranded across the country.
"People have been sleeping on the floor. Nobody has had anything to eat. It's filthy in here," said Ken Wagner, who was stuck in Denver's Greyhound station for more than 15 hours when the company decided to keep its buses off the icy roads.
Up to an inch of ice coated the Kansas City area, and layers a half-inch thick glazed highways in Iowa, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, causing numerous traffic accidents.
Snow was scattered from the Colorado Rockies — which got 20 inches in just 12 hours at Aspen — across the Plains and Great Lakes all the way into parts of New England, where 6 inches was possible by Thursday morning, the weather service said. The same system had dumped up to 3 feet of snow in the mountains around Los Angeles earlier in the week.
Weather-related traffic deaths included one each in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota and Indiana. The weather also may have been a contributing factor in a collision that killed another five people in Oklahoma and two in Michigan.
A search resumed Wednesday for two people who had been in a car that was found washed into a creek in Missouri, and one man was still missing after an Arizona flash flood that killed another man.
Airlines canceled 590 flights Wednesday at O'Hare International Airport (search) and other flights were delayed up to three hours, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Kristen Cabanban said. Kansas City, Mo., and Des Moines, Iowa, also had delays and cancelations.
Snow accumulations of about a foot were possible by Thursday in parts of Michigan, South Dakota, Illinois and Iowa, where wind gusting to 25 mph caused drifting, meteorologists said.
"It just keeps coming down," said Craig LeBaron, public works director for the city of Freeport, Ill., which had received about eight inches of snow by Wednesday afternoon.
Truckers pulled in to the Sapp Bros. truck stop at Council Bluffs, Iowa, to check weather reports and to buy groceries "and lots and lots of windshield fluid. We're almost out of it," said Nancy West, a manager.
Doby Webb, assistant manager at a farm and home supply store in Enid, Okla., said people rushed out to buy whatever they could find to keep warm: "Heaters, generators, anything that doesn't have to be plugged in."
Thick ice that coated trees and utility poles led to tens of thousands of power outages across a wide swath of the Plains and Midwest, including Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Westar Energy (search) in Kansas said it could be up to a week before it can restore service to nearly 100,000 customers.
Amid the travel problems and power outages, some people welcomed the storm.
"I didn't think the snow would ever come," said Alex Schulte, a 14-year-old snowboarding enthusiast in Sioux Falls, S.D., which got its first big storm of the season at 4.5 inches. "Snow is snow. I don't know what to say about it, but I love it."
Even grown-ups went AWOL to hit the ski slopes.
"The work ethic here is good, but it's standard that if it's a good powder day, it's a good excuse for anyone to take a day off," said Amy Semler, owner of A Mom's Day Off baby-sitting service at Aspen, Colo.