Bitter cold, snow put chill on end of 2008

NEW YORK (AP) -- Winter storm warnings and plummeting temperatures put a chill on New Year's Eve plans for hundreds of thousands of revelers. Thousands of homes and businesses in the Midwest had no electric lights for the holiday because of wind damage. Temperatures in the teens - with wind chills below zero - were forecast for midnight and the annual ball drop in New York's Times Square and for the First Night celebration in Boston, where up to 11 inches of snow was forecast with wind gusting to 45 mph.

However, that was almost mild compared to the upper Midwest, which started the day with temperatures as low as 33 below zero at Wahpeton, N.D., and 24 below at Brainerd, Minn.

Up to a million revelers, jammed tightly together by intense security, were expected to hunker down against the icy wind in Times Square to watch a five-minute blizzard of balloons and more than a ton of confetti.

But the weather put a crimp in the festivities for some. New Bedford, Mass., put its fireworks display off until Jan. 8 because of the wind, but said other New Year's Eve activities would go on as planned.

The National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings and advisories for parts of New England, upstate New York, northern Ohio, northern Minnesota and North Dakota, and sections of Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

In western New York state, at least 8 inches of snow had fallen by midday in the Buffalo and Rochester areas, and morning rush hour traffic crept at a near standstill on the New York State Thruway south of Albany.

"It's really affecting the entire state," said weather service meteorologist Dave Zaff in Buffalo.

Single-digit temperatures and sustained wind of up to 20 mph were expected to combine to produce wind chills as low as 25 below zero during the night in parts of New York state, meteorologists said.

More snow fell Wednesday in parts of Michigan as utility crews endured morning temperatures in the teens to restore power to customers still without service since a weekend wind storm knocked down trees and power lines. The state's major utilities said about 13,200 homes and businesses were still blacked out Wednesday.

In the Ohio Valley, Duke Energy said nearly 11,700 homes and business were blacked out by wind damage during the night in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky, but most were back on line Wednesday morning.

Up to 5 inches of snow was likely Wednesday in northern sections of North Dakota and Minnesota, on top of the foot or more that fell Tuesday, the weather service said.

December was already a record month for snow in North Dakota, with 33.3 inches at Bismarck. In Minnesota, Tuesday was the 16th day in December in which measurable snow had fallen at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Juanita Grosz didn't even bother to measure the snow at her home in Garrison, N.D., northwest of Bismarck.

"It doesn't matter - I just know that it's a lot," Grosz said Tuesday. "Everything is solid white; there isn't a track anywhere."

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