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. Heavy winds whipped it into a blinding wall that even blotted out the lit-up skyline for a few hours before dawn and left trees glazed with gloppy gobs of white.
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. "I came out this morning with no coat on, and it's snowing again. I think Mother Nature just has some attitude."
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.
Meteorologists warned that as much as 9 inches of snow could fall in parts of southeastern Michigan by Wednesday evening, with 4 to 8 inches in Detroit. Hundreds of schools were closed there, and drivers traversing slippery roads fell victim to rear-end collisions, ended up in ditches or had other snow-related mishaps. AAA Michigan said it responded to 900 calls for help, mostly in the southern part of the state.
The picture was similar in upstate New York, where hundreds of schools called off classes after the weather service warned that a blizzard with winds of up to 50 mph could paralyze the area from western New York to the Adirondacks.
Ed Szymanski was just finishing his first pass with the shovel outside a Buffalo post office when he declared that he'd had enough of winter.
"Too long," he said of the season as snow hit his eyeglasses and melted into droplets.
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.
After a few days of tantalizingly warmer temperatures, the return to snow-covered streets and trees was a jarring sight. Workers in downtown Chicago grunted as they heaved slush with well-worn shovels. Others rushed to return sidewalk signs warning pedestrians of ice falling from skyscrapers.
A tour boat company that ferries sightseers along the Chicago River even announced it was delaying this weekend's planned rollout of vessels from winter storage because they were encased in 20-inch-thick ice. Temperatures Friday are forecast in the 50s.
But there were some gluttons for winter punishment reveling in another blitz of squalling snow.
One of them was bookstore owner Ken Peczkowski, of South Bend, Ind., who was happy to be out shoveling again.
"It makes me feel alive," he said. "Summer just drags me down. Winter, I feel like I have to fight for every day of life, and that's great. It's good exercise."
Peczkowski said he remembers worse winters, including the blizzard of '78, when the city received a record 172 inches of snow.
"We made it through that, too," he said. "I think we were open every day."
Others have been searching at least for a feeling of spring, including some who stopped to check out the house plants and cheery garden items at Jeff Gatewood's nursery in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers.
"Everybody's got so much pent-up energy, it's going to make for a crazy spring," Gatewood said. "Spring fever is really going to be pretty high this year."
Associated Press writers Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.