As a brutal cold front moves through most of the United States this week with a rude wallop of snow, frigid temperatures and deep freezes -- most notably in the Buffalo, N.Y., area -- it's hard to believe that the official start of winter is a month away.
Snow coming off Lake Erie started falling Monday night. Parts of the Buffalo area were socked with 5 feet of snow Tuesday, local officials said, and by Wednesday morning the total was predicted to reach 6 feet, said Steven Welch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"It is one of the worst snow events we've ever had in terms of impact" in the area, Welch said.
Numerous motorists were stranded in cars stuck in the snow, and crews are still trying to dig some of them out, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference Tuesday night. Meanwhile, main streets are being cleared so emergency responders can use them; more than 200 cars have been towed so far, city officials said.
Residents are being told not to drive anywhere unless they have an emergency health situation.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a disaster Tuesday evening and deployed 150 soldiers and airmen from the National Guard to western portion of the state to help with the blizzard-like conditions.
"We are deploying the National Guard to ramp up efforts to keep western New York residents safe and to assist storm recovery efforts in any way possible," Cuomo said in a statement.
Four people are believed to have died in the storm: One was killed in an auto accident and three had heart attacks, Erie County, N.Y., officials said, according to the Associated Press. Two of the heart attack victims are believed to have been shoveling snow.
Meanwhile, Buffalo officials said, a girl was born in a fire station Tuesday after her mother couldn't get to the hospital. They said emergency medical technicians and paramedics, as well as a nurse who was stranded at the station, helped deliver the baby.
Officials are looking forward to a break in the snowfall Tuesday night, but the storm is expected to pick up again afterward. "Some parts of our county are going to receive a year's worth of snowfall in three days," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said on Twitter.
The nationwide record for snowfall in a 24-hour period belongs to Silver Lake, Colo., which received 76 inches on April 14-15, 1921. Some suburbs of Buffalo approached that amount Tuesday, the National Weather Service said, calling it possibly the highest 24-hour snow in a populated area.
The region's so-called lake-effect snow occurs when a cold front sweeps over Lake Erie and lifts moisture off the relatively warm waters into the frigid atmosphere, where it turns to snow. The trend is expected to continue through Friday.
The cold snap is hitting most of the nation and reaches into the Deep South, according to the National Weather Service.
Grand Rapids, Mich., was covered with 14 inches of snow and white-out conditions Tuesday as the temperature sank to 19 degrees. That is 25 degrees below normal, National Weather Service meteorologist Nathan Jeruzal said.
"This is more typical of January weather. This is definitely unlike mid-November," he said. "We are looking at a long winter."
In Destin, Fla., a popular tourist destination with sandy white beaches, the temperature fell to 33 degrees Tuesday morning, a new record low for the date, said Joe Maniscalco of the National Weather Service.
A hard freeze warning is in place for a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Pensacola, Fla., to Mobile, Ala., where the temperature is expected to dip to 22 degrees Wednesday morning.
"We are going to be breaking a lot of records," Maniscalco said.