Bone-chilling cold plods into Northeast US

Published 2:43 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y.  — Hoods were up and heads were down as a storm that plagued the Midwest for days plodded eastward Tuesday with knifing winds and blowing snow, stranding dozens of motorists on a southern Ontario highway and giving much of the northeastern U.S. its first real taste of winter.

The storm brought bone-chilling cold, and more snow was expected 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.

Nearly 180 of the estimated 300 people trapped in their vehicles on a highway near Sarnia, Ontario, about 65 miles northeast of Detroit, had been rescued by buses and military helicopters, Canadian officials said. Ontario Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley said he had no reports of deaths or injuries among the stranded.

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Colin Steward spent 25 hours stuck in his car, napping, phoning relatives and updating Facebook from his BlackBerry, the 50-year-old said Tuesday in a phone interview from his car.

“What can I do?,” he said. “I’m not impressed — it’s Canada.”

The blowing snow and road closures forced even a ski hill in northern Ontario, the Blue Mountain resort, to close.

In New York, state officials closed sections of two major roadways outside Rochester on Tuesday afternoon after accidents on snowy roads. Officials said several cars were involved in a pileup on Route 104 eastbound in Webster and a tanker truck rollover caused the closure of Route 390 northbound in Gates.

More than 10 inches of new snow had fallen at the Rochester airport by Tuesday morning, but flights were taking off and landing on schedule.

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

With temperatures in the teens, Felix Puyarena rode his bike about a mile over cleared streets to get to a subway 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.”

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.

In northern Ohio, the wintry blast made driving risky and pushed some university exams to Christmas week. In Cleveland, where up to 2 feet of snow has already fallen in parts of the snow belt east of the city, as much as 9 more inches could fall before a storm warning expires Wednesday morning.

Much farther south, 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.

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 domed 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.

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.”