Biting cold air snapped a dozen low-temperature records yesterday from Michigan to Texas and collided with warmer air from the South to dump snow from the Southwest to New England. Thousands of people lost their heat and electricity in icebound Dixie.

At least 38 deaths have been blamed on the storm system since Wednesday.

Forecasters were trying to confirm a temperature reading of minus 69.9 degrees Friday in Peter Sink, Utah, which would be a record for the contiguous 48 states. The old record of 69.7 below zero was set at Rogers Pass, Mont., in 1954.

The second stage of winter got off to a strong start as temperatures of 10 to 25 degrees below zero were common from Montana to Michigan.

Snow fell from the middle and lower Mississippi Valley to the north Atlantic Coast, while freezing rain and sleet continued over parts of the South.

Before the snow ended yesterday morning over Oklahoma, the storm had dumped 15 inches on Atoka and 14 inches on Marietta and Caddo.

The cold, snow and ice wrought havoc in the South.

Iced pavement forced police in Mississippi to close long stretches of Interstate 55, a main north-south artery, and Interstate 20, an east-west highway.

About 5,000 customers were without electricity as the temperature dropped into the teens in the northern areas, said Mississippi Power & Light Co.

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said 15,000 residents of Madison County did not have power early yesterday. Snow was a foot deep in northern Alabama, and 9 inches of ice paralyzed the northwest part of the state.

Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace declared a state of emergency Friday and ordered National Guard armories into use as shelters as the storm marched across the state.

Arizona National Guard helicopters finished their airlift to snowbound Indians