A fast-moving blizzard that seemed to come out of nowhere blasted the Plains, stranding drivers overnight in their cars and forcing hundreds of students to sleep on carpets and gym mats at school.
In Minnesota, authorities even ordered snowplows off the roads and threatened to arrest any driver making a non-emergency trip. Hundreds of accidents were reported.
The storm dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and the Dakotas and sent temperatures plunging. It knocked out power to thousands of homes in several states and forced schools and offices to close.
Tornadoes tore off roofs in Arkansas and Texas, where winds gusted to 110 mph. A man and a woman were killed when the roof of a store collapsed in Anthony, Texas.
Ahead of the storm to the east, record high temperatures brought the threat of flooding, particularly in New York and Ohio. Chicago reached 58 degrees, Cleveland hit 60 and Jackson, Ky., 69.
The storm caught many by surprise because it moved in so quickly after a spell of mild weather. In Oklahoma, the temperature dropped 40 degrees in two hours on Wednesday. Waterloo, Iowa, was a balmy 54 on Wednesday; on Thursday, the wind chill hit 50 below zero.
“We had a little Florida, then a little Minnesota,” said Megan Terry at the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla.
Minnesota had a little Arctic. Wind gusting to 60 mph pushed the wind chill down to 90 degrees below zero at Crookston. The wind chill hit minus 72 in Grand Forks, N.D., and more than 60 below in parts of Nebraska.