Des Moines: A gigantic storm dumped more than a foot of snow across much of the Midwest and New England as it marched eastward on Wednesday, creating blizzard conditions, burying cars under huge drifts and providing ammunition for a massive campus snowball fight in Wisconsin.
Even more snow fell in some areas, with 16 inches reported in Des Moines and nearly 19 inches just south of Madison, Wis. Gusts of up to 50 mph created snow drifts between 8 and 15 feet tall and even knocked down a two-story Christmas tree in downtown Champaign, Ill.
The storm was blamed for at least 16 deaths, most in traffic accidents. Hundreds of schools cancelled classes, power was knocked out to thousands of people from Missouri to New York and hundreds of flights were cancelled.
In the Twin Cities, where about 6 inches of snow fell and the wind chill dipped to minus 9 degrees, Kent Barnard eased a massive orange snowplow into traffic in the suburb of Arden Hills on Wednesday morning. He dropped the right wing of the plow down onto the shoulder, making a grinding sound as the wing sent out a spray of snow.
"You gotta watch it because some people try to sneak up around you," Barnard said. "They`ll see that big orange flashing truck coming and go, `I don`t want to get caught behind that thing.`"
The storm felt like a rude surprise after an unseasonably warm and dry November in parts of the region. The massive system is the first major blast of wintry weather for many parts of the Midwest.
While an inconvenience for many, others took an opportunity to play.
At least 3,000 University of Wisconsin-Madison students took advantage of an unplanned day off and hurled snowballs at each other in a massive melee. Classes had been cancelled for the first time in 19 years due to more than a foot of snow and blizzard-like conditions.
Some came holding trays as shields. Others were bundled up to protect themselves from the below-freezing temperatures and winds that gusted to more than 20 mph. Several went shirtless, though, while at least one had on pajamas.