The worst winter storm of the season rolled into the East yesterday with snow, torrential rains and howling winds, leaving the midlands blockaded by snowdrifts and shivering in deadly cold.

Forecasters said the storm showed no signs of diminishing.

At least 38 people have been killed in the storm's three-day march from Texas to the East. Temperatures dipping to nearly 50 degrees below zero and strong winds boosted the death toll.

The storm assailed the moisture-starved East with torrential rains, spreading thunderstorms from Georgia to New York. Forecasters said heavy snow would move into the Northeast as cold catches up with the rain.

In Morse, Wis., the mercury plunged to 26 below and savage winds pushed the wind chill index to 86 below -- a reading the National Weather Service says indicates anyone venturing out faces "great danger" of freezing any exposed flesh.

"You don't stay out long today unless you have all the clothes you own on. You'll get froze up fast," said Mark Carl, an amateur radio operator and weather bureau observer in the northern Wisconsin logging village of 24 people.

Hundreds of travelers took refuge overnight in motels, cafes, truck stops and a police station along U.S. 20 and Interstate 35 in Iowa, where Gov. Robert Ray called out the National Guard to seek out stranded motorists.

Tornadic winds that accompanied a deluge in North Carolina overturned a mobile home at Fayetteville, killing a 77-year-old woman, and strong winds caused extensive damage in eastern parts of the state.

Rain spread northward along the Eastern Seaboard, reaching Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, where the moisture was desperately needed to alleviate water shortages.

In New York City, strong winds accompanying the rain delayed flights at LaGuardia Airport and prompted authorities to restrict some vehicle traffic on the George Washington Bridge. Dropping temperatures threatened to turn rain-washed streets into bobsled runs.