Snow spread through the upper Mississippi Valley to the western Great Lakes yesterday and gusty winds whipped up nearly a foot of snow that has shrouded much of the Plains.

At least 13 highway fatalities were blamed on icy roads -- four in Nebraska, five in Iowa, one in Michigan, one in Kansas and two in Colorado.

Another person was killed in the crash of a light aircraft in Iowa. Dr. Steven Robonsin, of Billings, Mont., died trying to land his plane in falling snow.

Northern Illinois was spared from what had been given advance billing as the season's first blockbuster storm. Only about an inch of snow, and some freezing rain, glazed Chicago streets.

But heavy snow, mixed with ice, fell in the Detroit area at mid-morning as the storm curved on a northeasterly course.

Bitter cold spread over parts of the mid-Atlantic. The mercury plunged to 8 above zero at Raleigh, N.C., a record low for the date. Low temperatures from New England to the Carolinas dipped mostly into the teens.

Interstates 70 and 470 were closed for two hours during the morning because of the icy road conditions, said Ohio County deputy R.L. Rejonis.

Folklore enthusiasts waited to digest tomorrow's annual projectionss about the fate of the topsy-turvy winter of 1980-81 -- made by various groundhog "experts." Most sights are set on Punxsutawney (Pa.) Phil, perhaps the most famous of the furry prognosticators.

If Phil sees his corpulent shadow, tradition says the nation will be slapped with six more weeks of winter. If no shadow, an early spring is in store.

On Interstate 94 at Milwaukee, where 2 inches of snow fell overnight, police Sgt. Robert Schroeder said the road became so slippery that northbound cars coming down a bridge incline had no braking power and "ended up in one long slide." In all, 19 accidents were reported involving 35 vehicles, including one squad car that was hit six times. Two people were hospitalized.

In Iowa, authorities said Mary Gibson, 51, and her 12-year-old daughter, Tammy, of Ames, were killed and six other persons injured in a two-car crash on slippery U.S. 65 south of Story late Saturday.

The National Weather Service said the heaviest snow fell in southwest Iowa, with Shenandoah receiving 9 inches. Eight inches covered the southeast Nebraska towns of Auburn and Humboldt, while 7 inches covered Scottsbluff in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Six inches of snow fell in parts of Missouri.

Chicago officials, remembering the record winter two years ago, dispatched 300 trucks to salt streets for the storm that fizzled before it arrived. "We're just trying to prevent a buildup," said John Donovan, commissioner of streets and sanitation.