TOLEDO, Ohio – Pileups on the Ohio Turnpike involving at least 50 vehicles killed three people and seriously injured a state trooper on Wednesday as a late-winter storm swept through the Midwest and the Northeast, ending a fleeting spring-like thaw.
Emergency workers on the busy toll road struggled to reach accidents and stuck vehicles because of snowy conditions and traffic backups. Pileups stretched across a 2-mile section in the eastbound lanes of the turnpike between Toledo and Cleveland. Another series of pileups about 10 miles to the east shut down the turnpike’s westbound lanes near Sandusky.
Drivers sat for hours, a few braving the cold to stretch their legs, said Mike Ramella, a salesman from the Cleveland suburb of Westlake.
“I’m just sending emails, still working,” said Ramella, who was in the middle of a 7-mile backup.
A trooper responding to an accident was pinned between vehicles, said the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which confirmed the deaths of the three other people but didn’t immediately have further details. One vehicle lane opened about four hours after the first accident.
Trooper Andrew Clouser, 29, was in serious but stable condition at a Toledo hospital Wednesday night, said Ohio patrol Staff Lt. Anne Ralston.
Across the region, people fired up snow blowers, hoisted shovels and slogged through sloppy and treacherous commutes.
Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in northern Illinois and Indiana lost power, and a few hundred flights were canceled at Chicago’s airports. The city, where streets and sidewalks had only just dried out for the first time in months, got about 6 inches of snow.
People from Chicago to Buffalo, N.Y., were left wondering whether the start of spring was really just a week away.
“I think spring is buried under all the snow, and I’m just ready for it to go,” said Kelly Smith, huddling with her husband under an awning in downtown South Bend, Ind., waiting for a ride.
Wednesday’s storm was moving east, hitting the Great Lakes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, upstate New York and parts of New England. Some places, including Vermont, where 2 feet of snow was forecast, could see their heaviest snowfalls of the winter before the storm dissipates over Canada.
The late-winter storm was helping to edge snowfall totals toward the top of the record books.
Totals in southeastern Michigan could come close to breaking a 133-year-old record. The storm was likely to move the Detroit area close to the seasonal snow total record of 93.6 inches set in 1880-81, the weather service said.
Chicago had already been buried this winter by 75.5 inches of snow, the fourth most on record dating back to 1884-85. Wednesday’s snow pushed the seasonal total into third place, ahead of the 77-inch total from 1969-70.