High winds lashed Ohio early today, causing widespread power outages and property damage, blowing over a tractor-trailer on an interstate and apparently pushing a freight train off the rails into the Sandusky Bay.
Utilities said tens of thousands of customers statewide were without power this morning because of winds that reached 66 mph in Cleveland and 58 mph in Youngstown.
In northern Ohio, a train derailed on a bridge over Sandusky Bay, sending as many as four freight cars into the water, said Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton.
Bratton said the derailment occurred around 4:15 a.m. Wednesday. Authorities were working on the assumption that the cars were blown off the bridge by high winds near the Lake Erie coastline.
In Huron County, authorities received reports about downed power lines, trees and limbs, but no major injuries. Schools that were closed included Norwalk's public and parochial schools, as well as those in the Bellevue, Berlin-Milan, Monroeville, New London, South Central, Western Reserve and Willard districts.
In the Cleveland area, the temperature reached a high of 51 Tuesday and dropped to 14 degrees by this morning. More than 18,000 people lost power in the region and dozens of schools were closed, including Parma, Cleveland's biggest suburb.
Shelley Dietz was at home in Parma with a 3 1/2-year-old son whose preschool was closed.
"We've got another one of his friends from preschool coming over and we're going to play. We do our own little preschool class at home," Dietz said. "It's not a bad thing."
Power flickered in her neighborhood overnight and some nearby streets lost electricity with downed tree limbs and utility lines.
Winds also destroyed a greenhouse building in southwest Ohio's Butler County.
The State Highway Patrol said winds in northwest Ohio caused a semi with an empty trailer to go over on its side on Interstate 75 near Findlay, blocking the southbound lanes for three hours after midnight. The driver suffered minor injuries.
Also in northwest Ohio, a senior citizens' center in Maumee was closed because the doors were frozen shut.
Winds destroyed a greenhouse building at a business in southwest Ohio's Butler County. The building was empty and no injuries were reported, a sheriff's dispatcher said.
Ohio wasn't the only state to receive a "hard, vicious slap in the face" from the frigid storm and strong winds.
Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and fierce winds sliced through the Midwest and took aim at the Northeast, leaving behind bitterly cold air and blizzards in the northern Plains that sent temperatures in some areas plummeting by 50 degrees in a few hours.
The bad weather reached upstate New York by early Wednesday and forecasters warned that the arctic blast would send mercury tumbling across the Northeast and New England.
"This is going to be a hard, vicious slap in the face from Mother Nature," Gino Izzi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill., said Tuesday night. "The temperature drop we saw was really spectacular in a bad way."
The temperature in Buffalo, N.Y., went from a high of 54 degrees Tuesday to 21 degrees by 7 a.m. Wednesday, with winds gusting to more than 60 mph. Power was out in 40,000 homes and businesses, roads were slick and most schools in the Buffalo area were closed.
Jean Ewing stood with her back to the wind while waiting for the Buffalo pharmacy where she works to open Wednesday morning. She said a double-whammy of ice and blowing snow made for a difficult commute into the city.
"It took me 10 minutes to open my car" because it was covered in ice, she said.
In northern Illinois, high winds downed power lines and knocked trees onto utility lines, causing nearly 14,000 customers to lose power overnight, mostly in Chicago's south suburbs, said ComEd spokeswoman Judy Rader. Service to all but 1,300 had been restored by Wednesday morning.
Thousands also lost power in West Virginia and Illinois. In Michigan, Lower Peninsula residents were in the dark as blizzard conditions hit the western and northern parts of the state.
The winds and thunderstorms may have killed two people in Indiana on Tuesday, authorities said. Firefighters in southwestern Indiana pulled two bodies from a mobile home near Evansville that had been turned on its side by winds in a thunderstorm, WEHT-TV reported.
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.
"I wouldn't call it a common occurrence to see winds this strong with this kind of snow," Izzi said. "This isn't something we see every year."
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.
Most of Minnesota was under wind chill warnings until noon Wednesday due to indexes that fell into the minus-30 degree level. It was as low as 50 degrees below freezing in Hibbing.
Though only light snow fell in western, central and eastern Iowa on Tuesday, winds snapping as fast as 60 mph caused visibility problems, and temperatures dropped into single digits.
"It's a little worse than your average snowstorm," said Rod Donovan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa.
Some 1,500 workers went home early from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., while critical medical staff were put up in hotels so they could stay close to serve patients. The blustery winds also put flight operations on ice at the Rochester airport.
In Cape Girardeau County, Mo., winds were as strong as 70 mph and dime-size hail fell. Two unconfirmed funnel clouds were reported, said Dick Knaup, the county's emergency management director.
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: "By Thursday, the next storm will be right on our doorstep. This is quite a storm system," Breidenbach said.
In the snow farther west, avalanche danger forced officials to close Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington state's main east-west artery across the Cascade Mountains. The pass was to remain closed until Wednesday morning, Meagan McFadden of the state Department of Transportation said.
More than 200 trucks were backed up at North Bend, waiting to move freight across the pass. On a typical weekday, as many as 7,000 trucks travel I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, she said.
Snow also closed highways in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming.
Two of three snowmobilers lost in the mountains west of Denver were found late Tuesday, said Summit County sheriff's spokeswoman Paulette Horr. The third was still missing.
In Oregon, two snowmobilers were rescued Monday after spending two nights in the Wallowa Mountains, where they were trapped by storms. Authorities said the two were dressed warmly and equipped with survival gear, matches and an avalanche beacon.