Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed on Wednesday and scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts. Said John Kwiatkowski, an Indianapolis-based meteorologist with the weather service: "The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex."
The storm system spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day, startling people like Bob and Sherry Sims of Mobile, Alabama, who'd just finished dinner.
"We heard that very distinct sound, like a freight train," said Bob Sims. They headed for a center bathroom.
Power was still out at the Sims' home on Wednesday, but the house wasn't damaged and they used a generator to run heaters to stay warm. Some neighbors were less fortunate, their roofs peeled away and porches smashed by falling trees.
The storm also left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida saw severe thunderstorms.
Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were urged to avoid it. Snow was blamed for scores of vehicle accidents as far east as Maryland, and about two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency travel alerts, urging people to go out on the roads only if necessary.
About 40 vehicles got bogged down trying to make it up a slick hill in central Indiana, and four state snowplows slid off roads as snow fell at the rate of 3 inches an hour in some places.
Officials in Ohio blamed the bad weather for a crash that killed an 18-year-old girl, who lost control of her car Wednesday afternoon and smashed into an oncoming snow plow on a highway northeast of Cincinnati.