Forecasters are warning that some areas of upstate New York could get more than 100 inches of snow before a cold wave ends.
The weather system has generated arctic cold in the eastern half of the nation and is linked to at least 20 deaths.
An autopsy performed in New York Wednesday determined an elderly woman found inside a building died of hypothermia. Also, there have been five deaths reported in Ohio, four in Illinois, four in Indiana, two in Kentucky, two in Michigan, and one each in Wisconsin and Maryland.
In West Virginia, up to nine inches of snow has fallen, forcing retired snowplow drivers to be pressed into service.
And in Ohio, it was a third straight artic-like snow day off Wednesday for many Ohio youngsters, leaving parents and administrators wondering:
what to do with the kids and how to avoid makeup days next summer?
The wintry weather has disrupted flight schedules and getting around on land has proven difficult because of slick roads.
After four days of intense lake-spawned squalls blanketed some regions along eastern Lake Ontario with up to nearly five feet of snow — with more on the way — forecasters said Wednesday it still has a way to go to make history.
"We are shying away from calling this a record event," said Mike Pukajlo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
"There are several areas in that region that often get hammered during a winter. Seventy, eighty inches is uncommon for sure, but it's not highly unusual, especially over a several-day event like this," Pukajlo said.
Weather forecasters said some areas could receive more than 100 inches before the system breaks up. Squalls were expected to re-form late Wednesday, producing up to another foot of new snow in some areas. The snow was expected to shift south Thursday toward Syracuse, which has received only about two inches during the recent bout of storms.
Most of upstate New York is up to its neck in the white stuff, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace, due to a multi-day blizzard caused by lake effect snow. That's when cold air moves across long stretches of warm water. The water vapor freezes, turns to snow and pummels the coastline areas.
The city of Oswego, one of the hardest-hit communities, was digging out Wednesday during a brief reprieve as the lake-effect bands shifted to the south. The National Weather Service reported 46 inches of snow fell in Oswego, on the eastern end of Lake Ontario since late Sunday.
Nearby communities are also buried under a thick blanket of fresh snow — 57 inches in the town of Mexico and 54 in neighboring Parish.
Pukajlo said the squalls "will keep going right through the weekend. But we expect to see the bands moving around a bit more, back and forth, so it's not going to keep pounding on just one area."
Bill Gregway of Oswego, a trained weather observer for the National Weather Service for 39 years, called the recent squalls "a significant snowfall but it doesn't have historic properties."
Gregway recalled a lake-effect storm in February 1972 that produced 50 inches over a two-day period. That year, Oswego ended up receiving more than 270 inches of snow, he said
"The irony was we had a conference of meteorologists here from around the country. It snowed so much, they were trapped here and couldn't get away. It got a lot of national attention — the people who measure the snow were snowbound in Oswego," he said.
Paul Cardinali, a retired earth science teacher and local weather watcher since high school, also can remember bigger snow events.
During the Great Blizzard of 1966, a three-day Nor'easter blended with lake effect squalls to leave the region buried under nearly 200 inches — 16 feet — of snow.
"Events like this make people question the idea of global warming. But the reason we're getting these is because the water in the lake is warmer," said Cardinali.
Meanwhile, West Virginia's first major winter storm of the season forced the state to recall 21 retired snowplow drivers to help keep interstates and other major roadways clear.
The storm dumped up to 9 inches of snow by Wednesday morning, prompting all 55 counties to either close schools or delay classes for a second day in a row.
Clearing skies Wednesday came as a relief to crews who'd been plowing roads since Tuesday amid a shortage of Division of Highways truck drivers.
As of mid-January, the agency had 631 job vacancies, mostly in truck-driving positions, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Susan Watkins said Wednesday. Despite the vacancies, no major highways were neglected during the storm, she said.
"All our counties and our substations are out working 24-7," she said. "We're carrying on. We are making do."
Last fall, letters were sent to about 100 retirees asking them to work through the winter season. Only 21 agreed, Watkins said.