Residents across a huge swath of the U.S. were left shivering in Arctic-like temperatures a day after a 2,000-mile-long winter storm barreled through, dumping record or near-record amounts of snow, downing power lines and caving in roofs.
Wind chills dipped to nearly 30 below zero in some parts early Thursday as people began digging out from the sprawling system. It unloaded as much as 2 feet of snow, crippled airports and stranded drivers in downtown Chicago. Much of Texas was under a hard freeze warning Wednesday; light snowfall stubbornly lingered into the night in Maine.
More than a dozen people died after violent storms swept across Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas, unleashing tornadoes and high winds just days after a massive twister razed much of a Missouri city.
In Oklahoma, hardest hit by the storms that struck Tuesday night and early Wednesday, officials said nine people, including a child, were killed when several twisters touched down in Oklahoma City and its suburbs. At least 70 other people were in critical condition.
The eastern U.S. felt the full, blazing brunt Thursday of a heat wave that began in the Plains and has strained tempers and electricity grids from Tulsa to Boston amid record temperatures and stifling humidity.
Thursday marked the first time President Obama has visited Oklahoma since running for the White House in 2008. He didn't win the state four years ago, and he's not expected to carry the traditionally red state this November, either.
But one Oklahoma town took center stage Thursday as Obama wrapped up a two-day tour of four states promoting his energy policy.
America's South, Midwest and Southwest are suffering through drought and high heat. Those regions have braved a string of days that saw temperatures in the high 90s, with heat indexes commonly reaching above 110 degrees.
But forecasters say much of the eastern U.S. will experience a gradual cool-down in the next few days. "New York and the D.C. area will drop down intothe lower 80s by Friday," the AP said, "while Atlanta drops to the upper 80s Friday and Saturday."
A federal judge on Monday temporarily stopped Oklahoma's new anti-Shariah law from taking effect.
Oklahoma's law -- a ballot initiative approved by 70 percent of Oklahomans in the Nov. 2 elections -- would change the state constitution to prohibit courts from considering international or Muslim law when deciding cases.
Muneer Awad, head of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wasn't surprised at the Nov. 2 vote -- but he was sad and worried.
In Oklahoma, a new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to first answer dozens of personal questions, including why she wants the procedure. That information, names omitted, would eventually be posted on a state Web site.
Those who support the measure say it will help them better understand why women are seeking abortions. Abortion rights advocates call the law intimidating and invasive, and this week, they are challenging it in court. Legal experts say the law is another test of how far states can go to regulate abortion.