BUFFALO, N.Y. &
Wicked wind and blowing snow blinded commuters during the morning rush and Lake Erie surged over its eastern shore today as severe weather that sliced through the nation's midsection took aim at the Northeast.
The bad weather reached upstate New York by early today and sent mercury tumbling rapidly across the Northeast and New England.
Inside Nick's Texas Hots diner in Buffalo, workers Thomas Knapp and Cindy Jimerson dragged a large, twisted chunk of aluminum, perhaps a shed or an awning, out of the middle of a road after watching it sail from a parking lot.
"If someone was walking it would have cut their head off," Jimerson said from behind the counter.
Knapp's arms and fingers were spotted with bandages after wedging the corrugated heap about 8-feet-by-8-feet, with the help of a passer-by, between the diner and some newspaper boxes.
"I don't think it's going to stay there," he said as he looked out a window as gusts of more than 60 mph shook street signs and buffeted cars.
The severe weather was part of a storm system that knocked out power to thousands in upstate New York, West Virginia, Ohio and Illinois. In Michigan, Lower Peninsula residents were in the dark as blizzard conditions hit the western and northern parts of the state.
Meteorologists posted a flash flood warning along the Niagara River and Buffalo Harbor in western New York until — p.m. after wind caused the water level on Lake Erie to suddenly rise 101/2 feet.
"Lake Erie is so shallow that when you get a wind shift of such magnitude ... it's alms like in a bathtub when you get the water moving back and forth," National Weather Service meteorologist Joseph Pace said.
With sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph, accompanied by bursts of snow, the temperature in Buffalo went from a high of 54 degrees Tuesday to 21 degrees by Wednesday morning. Peak gusts hit 64 mph at the National Weather Service office in Cheektowaga, N.Y., and 70 mph in Dunkirk.
In New York and around the region, roads were slick, dozens of schools closed and the morning commute was a nightmare.
In northern Ohio, a train traveling in high winds derailed on a bridge over Sandusky Bay around 4 a.m. Wednesday, sending as many as four freight cars into the water, said Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton.
Temperatures dropped from 37 Tuesday to minus 19 overnight at Rhinelander, Wis.
"It is like one day it is spring and the next day you are in the middle of never-never land," said Bill Larson, 60, who lives two miles to the east. "You are in the same place but it is like two different worlds."
Two major highways in southern Minnesota reopened early Wednesday as wind died down and snow stopped falling, but the state remained in a deep freeze, with the temperature dipping as far as minus 27 in the northeastern region.
Wind gusts as high as 70 mph created problems for air travel and avalanche warnings were issued for some Western regions. Tornadoes or reports of tornadoes surfaced in several communities in the nation's midsection.
In Indiana, a line of severe thunderstorms packing wind gusts up to 80 mph killed three people in mobile homes and a fourth who died in a car crash, authorities said. Firefighters pulled the bodies of an elderly woman and her daughter from a mobile home flipped over by the wind Tuesday night near Poseyville, a rural area in southwestern Indiana.
Resident Marilyn Prince said she was fixing dinner when the storm blew in. The 68-year-old woman and her husband live in the country, so there were no sirens and she didn't have time to get to the storm cellar. She cowered by her refrigerator.
The house where they have lived for 42 years was destroyed, a century-old tree was shorn from their yard and a flagpole was bowed by the winds.
"We're OK and that's all that matters," she said. "God was with us."
The system also dragged frigid air across the northern Plains. The Weather Service reported midday temperature Tuesday of minus-24 degrees at Glasgow, Mont. North Dakota registered wind chill factors of minus-54 degrees at Garrison, while Williston hit a low of minus-24 degrees.
Two of three snowmobilers lost in the mountains west of Denver were found late Tuesday, said Summit County sheriff's spokeswoman Paulette Horr. The rescued men said the third had died, but his body had not been found.
The weather week began with heavy snow pummeling mountain areas from Washington state to northern Arizona as two storms converged, one from hard-hit California and another from the Gulf of Alaska, meteorologists said.
The storms were followed Tuesday by a third that threatened to leave up to 20 inches of snow in Idaho's mountains, said Jay Breidenbach of the Weather Service office in Boise, Idaho.
A fourth storm was on the way to the interior West: " Thursday, the next storm will be right on our doorstep. This is quite a storm system," Breidenbach said.
Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda in Denver; Ryan Lenz in Poseyville, Ind., Sophia Tareen and Michael Tarm in Chicago; Henry C. Jackson in Des Moines, Iowa; Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho; and Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Weather Service warnings: http:www.weather.gov/view/nationalwarnings.php
Winter storms hit hard across nation
BUFFALO, N.Y. &