From the coast of Maine to California's Cannery Row -- and nearly everyplace in between -- brutal wind, cold and snow made the Great Winter of 1977 seem like yesterday.

The first big storm of the new year sent temperatures below zero in many states, forced widespread electric power cutbacks and took at least 20 lives.

As bad as it was yesterday in the Washington area, where the temperatures reached only 23 degrees and winds gusted to 38 miles an hour -- a wind-chill equivalent of at least -- 12 -- it was terrible elsewhere.

The National Weather Service predicted a moderate warming trend for this area, with a high around 30 expected today, but a 40 to 50 per cent chance of more snow by Friday.

That was good news compared to what was happening in other parts of the national icebox. This is how tough it was around the country:

Power shortages were common from Michigan to the Carolinas, with electricity rationed as utilities worked to capacity. So intense was the cold in the Appalachian area that vital coal stocks froze at some power stations.

Blizzard warnings and a threat of floods were posted in northern New England. The Kennebec and the Androscoggin were at flood level in Maine. Pounding surf washed away 25 per cent of New York Citys Rockaway Beach.

Pennsylvanians were warned to on it" as the cold there and in a belt stretching across the Midwest and Great Lakes brought ugly reminders of last winter's fury.

Western New York was sent reeling by heavy snow and cold. Traffic and commerce slowed to a crawl or simply stopped in Buffalo, Rochester and other communities. Visibility was so poor at Warsaw, N.Y., that officials didn't even call out the snow plows.

Ohio -- particularly Cleveland, with nine inches of snow and winds blasting at up to 50 mph -- took it squarely on the chin. Mayor Dennis Kucinich said the emergency was too much for Cleveland to deal with alone, and National Guardsman helped rescue stranded motorists.

Temperatures plummeted into the teens throughout much of Dixie, and into the 30s in southern Florida. Brisk winds kept the state's citrus crop from freezing on the trees.

Across the Plains states, the cold was ugly and the wind made it worse. Overnight lows of -- 20 and -- 30 were common, and heavy snow warnings were posted.

Heavy storms buffeted the California coast, cutting off power briefly in the southern part of the state, flooding highways and ruining beach homes. Waterfront property along storied Cannery Row at Monterey was destroyed.

At Orr's Island, Maine, a 75-year-old fisherman pronounced the winds and waves worse than he had ever before experienced, even in a hurricane.

Engineers at Commonwealth Edison in Chicago, where the wind chill made it the equivalent of 48 below zero at 9 a.m. yesterday, said the drain on power systems was so intense that electric clocks ran an average of 27.7 seconds slow during early morning.

A key concern of officials in the Upper South and the Midwest was electricity supply. Utilities urged consumers to limit their power use, and in some areas, including Virginia, West Virginia and the Tennessee Valley, electricity was being rationed.

William Webb, a spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission here, said, "The problem [of electric power] is pretty common throughout the middle section of the country. There is not enough capacity to go around right now and this appears to be fairly general in a broad area from Michigan to the Carolinas."

The new year's first heavy on-slaught was not without its lighter touches, however.

In Cleveland, for instance, acting ports director Mary Vodicka, whose predecessor was ousted by the mayor after an earlier snowstorm, got lost while on an inspection tour of snowclosed runways at Hopkins International Airport. Her truck finally was located on radar and guided back to the terminal.

In Erie County, Pa., a motorist was trapped for more than an hour in a restroom of a service station along Interstate 79. The pipes in the men's room froze, so he was sent to the ladies' room. Wind blew the door shut and the lock froze.The man was freed with a cutting torch and a crowbar.