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Killer storm: 13 deaths blamed on winter blast as snow piles up

High winds, frigid temperatures and a lot of snow hit the East Coast overnight, and cities are scrambling to manage the impact. NBC's Ron Mott reports from Boston.

A massive winter storm dumped snow across the Northeast and ushered in dangerously cold temperatures Friday, leaving travelers stranded and cutting a deadly trail across several states.

The treacherous conditions have led to at least 13 deaths in the eastern United States, according to The Associated Press.

Fatal traffic accidents occurred in New York, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home.


And in suburban Philadelphia, as the storm approached, a worker at a salt storage facility was killed when a 100-foot-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe.

NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports from Long Island, NY, where a blizzard warning was still in effect and many public buildings had shut down.

The big storm closely followed the blueprint meteorologists drew up, slamming the Northeast overnight Thursday with as much as two feet of snow and sub-zero wind chills through Friday. The biting wind and blowing snow shut down interstates and airports alike and gave millions of school children a snow day.

John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was officially closed at 6:12 a.m. Friday and reopened four hours later, while Boston's Logan International was shut down overnight through 8 a.m. Friday morning. 

Interstate 84 in New York and the Long Island Expressway, closed at midnight as the storm roared in and remained so until 8 a.m.

Snowfall reports varied widely, with New York City receiving 7 inches in some areas, Baltimore seeing 3 to 6 inches, Philadelphia closing in on 9 inches, Hartford 6 to 10 inches and Boston as much as 15 inches. 

Some 20 inches fell on other parts of Massachusetts. Boxford, northwest of Boston, reported 23 inches.

Wellington Ferreira said the cold was worse than the snow as he cleared a sidewalk in front of Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and Music Club in Somerville, Mass.

“My ears are frozen,” he said. “I’ve been here for a couple a years, so I’m all right, but I hate it. I’m never going to get used to it.”

The brutal storm blasted at least 22 states – stretching from Chicago through the New York tri-state region into New England – and affected an area home to more than 100 million people.

The high temperature in New York City reached the 20s on Friday during the day and was expected to drop to the single digits in the evening, with the wind chill making it feel well below zero.

“It’s deceptively cold outside. If you stay outside too long it could be dangerous,” New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, said at a news conference Friday morning, while hundreds of plows and salt spreaders continued to clear the roads.

Temperatures from upstate New York to Maine were below zero, and wind chills — the "feels like" effect — were minus-30 in some spots.

Across the Northeast, residents were fretting about the blast of bitter cold.

“I think I’m more concerned about the terrible cold Friday night rather than the storm itself," David Ball of Scituate, Mass., which was facing coastal flooding, told NBC affiliate WHDH. "Hopefully the power stays on."

NBC's Tom Costello provides a winter travel update and reports that hundreds of flights have been canceled after a winter storm struck the East Coast.

While few power outages were reported, the weather was affecting air travel in the U.S., with more than 2,600 flights cancelled Friday and another 5,600 delayed, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

The delays and cancellations in storm-socked parts of the country created a logjam in other areas, including causing flights in Los Angeles to be delayed or scrapped Friday.

In Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers host an NFL playoff game Sunday evening, the low temperature on Friday reached minus 18 degrees. Antigo, Wis., set a bone-chilling record of minus 25 degrees.  

The Northern High Plains could see biting wind chills of minus-50 on Sunday, a far cry from the 50 degree sunny weather they began the weekend with.

The cold front bringing the jarring wind chills to the Plains would move east across the country, according the National Weather Service.

“Even Atlanta’s northern suburbs could be in single digits by Monday night,” Moore said.

Monday could bring highs in the negatives and lows as cold as 30 below to Minnesota, prompting Gov. Mark Dayton to cancel school statewide for the first time in 17 years.

Larry Wittmers, a hypothermia expert at the University of Minnesota-Duluth medical school, said it’s not necessarily the coldest areas that face the most peril.

“True hypothermia cases turn up more often in more southern regions because people are not prepared and don't know what to do,” Wittmers said.

How long people can safely spend outside depends on how wet or windy it is and how they are dressed, Wittmers said. Shoveling snow or other exercise can be dangerous because sweat reduces the insulation capability of clothing, and consuming alcohol can speed heat loss and reduce awareness of the cold.

And even though record snowfall is not expected, the cold could make roads even more hazardous because the snow-melting salt that homeowners and road crews use loses effectiveness at between 10 and 20 degrees.

To give plows time to work and guard against vehicles getting stranded, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Friday and closed several major roads. New Jersey also declared a state of emergency.

While many drivers appeared to stay home, helping to reduce traffic accidents, a NJ Transit bus driver suffered minor injuries when his empty bus slid backward into a commercial building in Paterson, N.J. A transit spokesman said he wasn't aware of any injuries inside the building.

Cuomo cautioned drivers in New York to stay off the roads if they could help it.

“As this winter storm unfolds, bringing heavy snow and high winds to many parts of the state, I strongly urge all New Yorkers to exercise caution, avoid travel and stay indoors,” he said.

While the cold will linger in New York, the Northeast should get a break from the snow over the weekend, while the Rockies, Great Lakes and parts of the Midwest have more coming their way, according to Weather.com.

NBC News' Tracy Connor, Daniel Arkin and Ron Mott, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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