A shroud of white covered nearly half the nation Wednesday, stopping transportation from Oklahoma to New England, and burying parts of the Midwest under two feet of snow while laying down dangerously heavy ice in the Northeast.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ordered federal disaster aid to Oklahoma on Wednesday to supplement state and local response efforts in the area, struck by the storm for several days now.
Across the country tens of millions of people stayed home. Chicago's 20.2 inches of snow was the city's third-largest amount on record. In New York's Central Park, the pathways looked like skating rinks.
A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we'd see once every 50 years — maybe," National Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.
Across the storm's path, lonely commuters struggled against drifts 3 and 4 feet deep in eerily silent streets, some of which had not seen a plow's blade since the snow started a day earlier. Parkas and ski goggles normally reserved for the slopes became essential for getting to work.
"This is probably the most snow I've seen in the last 34 years," joked 34-year-old Chicagoan Michael George. "I saw some people cross-country skiing on my way to the train. It was pretty wild."
Although skies were beginning to clear by mid-afternoon over much of the nation's midsection, the storm promised to leave a blast of bitter cold in its wake. Overnight temperatures in the upper Midwest were expected to fall to minus 5 to minus 20, with wind chills as low as minus 30.
The system was blamed for the deaths of at least a dozen people, including a homeless man who burned to death on New York's Long Island as he tried to light cans of cooking fuel and a woman in Oklahoma City who was killed while being pulled behind a truck on a sled that hit a guard rail.
Airport operations slowed to a crawl nationwide, and flight cancellations reached 13,000 for the week, making this system the most disruptive so far this winter. A massive post-Christmas blizzard led to about 10,000 cancellations.
In the winter-weary Northeast, thick ice collapsed several structures, including a gas station canopy on Long Island and an airplane hangar and garages near Boston. In at least two places, workers heard the structures beginning to crack and narrowly escaped.