Bone-chilling cold plods into Northeast

Frigid air from Canada to Deep South as first real taste of winter spreads from the Midwest

Published December 14, 2010 6:54PM (EST)

Hoods were up and heads were down as a storm that plagued the Midwest for days plodded into the Northeast on Tuesday with knifing winds and blowing snow, stranding dozens of motorists on a southern Ontario highway and giving much of the region its first real taste of winter.

The storm, with its bone-chilling cold, continued its trek over the Great Lakes and into Canada. More snow was in the cards or already falling Tuesday in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The frigid air stretched into the deep South, where hard freeze warnings were in effect overnight in much of Florida. Hundreds of schools were closed or opening late.

Canadian officials said about 150 of the estimated 300 people trapped in their vehicles on Highway 402 near Sarnia, Ontario, had been rescued, as many as a dozen by military helicopters. Many people are staying with their vehicles. Sarnia is about 65 miles northeast of Detroit.

Ontario Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley said he had no reports of deaths or injuries among the stranded.

In northern Ohio, the wintry blast created risky driving conditions and pushed some university exams to Christmas week.

Commuters walking on snow-encrusted sidewalks clutched hats and tugged scarves tightly against the windy onslaught in Cleveland, where as much as 9 more inches could fall before a storm warning expires Wednesday morning. Up to 2 feet of snow has already fallen in parts of the snow belt east of the city.

Buffalo is used to getting thumped by lake effect storms coming off Lake Erie.

Felix Puyarena rode his bike about a mile over cleared streets to get to the train station. The native of Puerto Rico has lived in Buffalo 10 years and knows the keys to surviving winter: Hat, sunglasses, hood and a scarf that covered his face entirely.

"I've got everything," he said. "I'm good."

Helicopters were being used on Florida's valuable and sensitive vegetable crops, an unusual approach by farmers worried that an uncommon freeze could wipe out their harvests. The choppers hover low over fields to push warmer air closer to the plants.

It was too windy to use helicopters Tuesday morning, but farmer John Hundley said he would try Tuesday night if winds calmed and temperatures did not warm up.

In western New York, dozens of schools were closed.

Michelle Vivian was walking to a store on Buffalo's main street to get materials for a cubicle-decorating contest at the Department of Homeland Security office where she works. She hadn't walked far but already her black, wool coat was covered with snow.

"Most people here should know how it works by now," she said.

By noon Tuesday, 20 inches had fallen in Perrysburg, near the Lake Erie shoreline south of Buffalo. Forecasters said some areas along the lakes could get 1 to 2 feet of new snow from this latest storm. Northwest winds from 15 to 25 mph, with gusts to 35 mph, dropped wind-chill readings below zero.

The slow-moving storm that has been crawling across the Midwest since Friday night caused dozens of accidents, stranded more than 100 motorists in Indiana and collapsed the roof of an NFL stadium. At least 16 people have died because of the storm, which dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

At the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, cold-loving wolves, tigers and bears get extra calories during a winter blast, and a heater and underwater propeller keeps the artificial pond in the wolf den from freezing, said zookeeper Travis Vineyard. The polar bears are having a blast.

And in Michigan, Jessica Porter went into labor early Sunday during a storm, forcing her and her husband, Greg, to begin a treacherous trek of about 50 miles to a hospital in Traverse City. When blizzard conditions and slick roads halted the trip, they pulled to the side of the road in Elk Rapids and called authorities. Village police arrived and Officer Michael Courson helped deliver baby Bradley in the car.

"That was our only option," Greg Porter told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. "The little one decided that he couldn't wait any longer. He's got a heck of a story to tell."

(This version CORRECTS the story to note that officials said as many as a dozen motorists were rescued by military helicopters, not all 150.)

By Associated Press

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