Mother nature vented her wintry fury on much of the United States and Canada Tuesday as arctic blasts and blizzards sparked deadly crashes, snarled air traffic and closed highways in one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) issued winter weather advisories and winter storm watches for large swathes of the United States including in the Chicago area in the midwest which has been in the grips of an extreme cold snap for nearly a week, with temperatures plunging to below zero (negative 17 degrees Celsius).

Dozens of delays or cancellations were reported Tuesday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the country's second busiest, where hundreds of flights have been cancelled over the past week as the city was slammed by blizzard conditions.

Agony for holiday travelers was also reported at several other airports as the storms in the Northwest and Midwest caused a ripple effect across much of the rest of the country, snarling holiday air traffic at major airports in San Francisco; Houston, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; New Jersey and New York, officials said.

"The airlines are doing their best to get everyone on track today," said San Francisco International airport spokesman Michael McCarron told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But (more storms) will slow things down again if that happens this week."

At least five people died as ice storms cut power in some parts of the United States, multiple-car wrecks were reported in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois and chilly temperatures and blustery winds forced residents to bundle up.

The fierce weather was blamed for the death of two people in a single-vehicle crash on Interstate Highway 80 east of Des Moines, Iowa.

Another weather-related fatality was reported in northwest Iowa when a farm tractor being used for snow removal slipped off the driveway and overturned, killing the driver, the Des Moines Register newspaper reported.

Nearly 64 million Americans are expected to travel during the end-of-year holiday season, either by road, rail or air, a two-percent decline from the period last year, the American Automobile Association predicts.

Rare heavy snowstorms walloped the Pacific Northwest, leading to scores of flight cancellations and thousands of travelers stranded at Seattle's international airport Monday that authorities said could take days to unclog.

The worst winter storm in decades to hit the Oregon city of Portland culminated with a 13-inch (33-centimeter) snowfall Monday that closed inter-state highways and paralyzed the region.

Oregon authorities mobilized their National Guard units Tuesday to help overwhelmed emergency crews cope with the large volume of weather-related rescues and road work, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

A winter storm watch remained in effect for Portland and coastal Oregon through Christmas Day Thursday, with up to two feet (61 centimeters) of new snow forecast in the Cascade mountains, the NWS reported. Warmer weather was forecast for the weekend.

Thousands of customers were still without power Tuesday in Massachusetts and New Hampshire 11 days after a mammoth ice storm down caked much of the US northeast in a brittle glaze, according to media reports.

The National Weather Service said Bismarck, North Dakota was on track to break a 1916 record for snowfall in December. The city has received 19 inches of snow so far in December and, with more snow on the way, could shatter the last record of 21.7 inches.

In Canada's Nova Scotia province, about 25,000 people were without electricity Tuesday, down from some 90,000, after brutal winds toppled power lines, national broadcaster CBC reported, citing Nova Scotia Power.

Canada is no stranger to extreme weather, but a series of arctic blasts have blanketed much of the country in snow and made travel difficult. The country may see its first countrywide white Christmas since 1971, meteorologists predicted.

Environment Canada issued snow warnings across the country and winter storm watches in Northern Ontario.