CHICAGO -- A fearsome storm spread a smothering shroud of white over nearly half of the nation Wednesday, snarling transportation from Oklahoma to New England, burying parts of the Midwest under 2 feet of snow and laying down dangerously heavy layers of ice in the Northeast that were too much for some buildings to bear.

Tens of millions of people stayed home. The hardy few who ventured out faced howling winds that turned snowflakes into face-stinging needles.

Chicago's 20.2 inches of snow was the city's third-largest amount on record. In New York's Central Park, the pathways resembled skating rinks.

The storm that resulted from two clashing air masses was, if not unprecedented, extraordinarily rare for its size and strength.

"A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we'd see once every 50 years -- maybe," National Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.

Lonely commuters struggled against drifts 3 and 4 feet deep in eerily silent streets that hadn't seen a plow's blade since the snow started a day earlier. Parkas and ski goggles normally reserved for the slopes became essential for getting to work.

"This is probably the most snow I've seen in the last 34 years," joked 34-year-old Chicagoan Michael George. "I saw some people cross-country skiing on my way to the train. It was pretty wild."

Although skies were beginning to clear over much of the nation's midsection, the storm promised to leave a blast of bitter cold in its wake. Overnight temperatures in the upper Midwest were expected to fall to minus 5 to minus 20, with wind chills as much as minus 30.

The system was blamed for at least 10 deaths, including a homeless man who burned to death on Long Island as he tried to light cans of cooking fuel and a woman in Oklahoma City who was killed while being pulled behind a truck on a sled that hit a guard rail.

Chicago public schools canceled classes for the second straight day. And the city's iconic Lake Shore Drive remained shut down, nearly a day after drivers abandoned hundreds of snowbound vehicles.

The famous freeway appeared as if rush hour had been stopped in time, with three lanes of cars cluttering the pavement amid snow drifts that stood as high as the windshields. Bulldozers worked to clear the snow from around the cars, which were then plucked by tow trucks out of the drifts one by one.

Elsewhere, utility crews raced to restore power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where freezing rain and ice brought down electrical lines.

Rolling blackouts were implemented across Texas, including in Super Bowl host city Dallas, due to high demand during a rare ice storm. The outages would not affect Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington, said Jeamy Molina, a spokeswoman for utility provider Oncor. But other Super Bowl facilities, such as team hotels, were not exempt, she said.