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Brutal Winter Storm Heads East

Last updated 6:46 p.m. Eastern

A fierce storm left dangerous ice, heavy snow and vicious winds in its wake as it slogged eastward Wednesday, snarling traffic and closing hundreds of schools from the Upper Midwest through New England.

More than a foot of snow was expected in parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, where the National Weather Service warned of "extremely dangerous blizzard conditions" and near whiteout driving conditions. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph could build snow drifts between 8 and 15 feet tall. Parts of New England also girded themselves for bone-chilling wind gusts and snow accumulations of up to a foot.

The storm was blamed for at least 12 deaths, most in traffic accidents.

"It's horrible out there," said Todd Lane, an assistant manager of a Quik Trip convenience store in Des Moines, where several inches of new snow was reported overnight. Plow drivers came into the store all night seeking energy drinks and coffee to keep them alert.

The National Weather Service says that by the time this storm moves off the coast of Maine Thursday night, it may have affected as much as two-thirds of the country, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

Motorists got stuck on drift-blocked highways all over Iowa. State troopers were dispatched with National Guard soldiers in Humvees, but some drivers had to wait two hours or longer for rescue. Even the plows were being pulled off the roads because snow drifts were too high to navigate.

"They're not even plowing the streets anymore because the wind will just blow it back down and cover it," said Dan Hansen, a carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Iowa City. He was bundled up in hand and feet warmers, snow boots and a parka to brave his route. "It'll get worse before it gets better."

In Illinois, fifteen percent of the corn crop is wilting under a layer of snow and may be lost, Reynolds reports.

In Wisconsin, as many as a dozen tractor-trailers were stuck on interstate ramps made impassible by heavy snow where I-39, I-90 and I-94 intersect near Madison, the State Patrol said. Holiday shoppers hoping to use the snow day to get ahead on their gift lists also were out of luck: The city's two largest malls were closed.

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 winter weather for many parts of the Midwest.

Reporting live from Minnesota, where the windchill was minus 2 degrees, CBS "Early Show" weather anchor Dave Price said the system started out as a typical winter storm, but the combination of bitter cold arctic air and a fair amount of moisture energized it. Add in a powerful jet stream, and it has been driven across the country at about a 60 mph pace.

"I've been dreading this day," said Kim Brust, shoveling the sidewalk in front of his Minneapolis home before sunrise Wednesday. "I was starting to enjoy the global warming."

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, and only a few were scheduled at Des Moines International Airport.

Blizzard warnings also covered eastern Nebraska, where overnight snowfall reports of 12 inches were common, and parts of Kansas, Illinois and Minnesota. Snow also fell in western and central Michigan. Thousands of power outages were reported in Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In the West, pounded by the storm's rain and snow earlier this week, bitter wind chills as low as 40 below swept across portions of southern Montana. The biting winds also were moving across Wyoming and South Dakota, according to the National Weather Service.

Maine and New Hampshire could see snow accumulations of 6 to 10 inches capped off by rain and sleet in the evening. In northern New York, as much as a foot of snow was expected to accumulate Wednesday and more than 3 feet was expected by the week's end near the Great Lakes.

"It's a monster of a storm," Lee said.

The storm drenched California with rain, blanketed the mountain West with snow and brought 100 mph winds to New Mexico earlier this week. More than 20 inches of snow fell over Flagstaff, Ariz. - more than four times the record of 5 inches set in 1956. Heavy rain also hit some parts of the South, and more than 4 inches reported in spots in New Orleans on Tuesday.

At least 12 deaths were blamed on the weather, including an Arizona hunter who was killed Monday night when a large pine tree snapped and crushed him as he slept in a tent. The driver of a sport utility vehicle that plunged 90 feet off an icy road into the Texas Panhandle's Palo Duro Canyon also died. Three fatal accidents were reported along slippery roads in Missouri, and a Minnesota driver who braked to avoid a stalled vehicle and wound up crashing down an embankment.