POSTED: 4:13 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 9:47 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2011
NEW YORK — A long-predicted storm caught much of the East Coast off guard with its unexpected ferocity, tearing through with lightning, thunder and mounds of wet snow, leaving nearly 300,000 customers around the nation's capital without power, and forcing people to shovel out their cars and doorsteps all over again.
The forecast had called for up to a foot of snow in parts of the region, but the storm brought far more in spots. New York got 19 inches, Philadelphia 17. Public schools closed for a second day Thursday, including the nation's largest system in New York City, and motorists were warned to stay off slick roads.
Snow totals in the Washington area ranged from about 3 inches to nearly 7.
"What a mess," said Andy Kolstad, a 65-year-old federal statistician from Silver Spring, Md., who had to walk half an hour uphill to catch a bus after his regular shuttle bus was canceled. "There was no point in staying home because I couldn't have breakfast in the dark," he said.
Tens of thousands of residents in other parts of the region also lost power, which was being quickly restored Thursday.
The Northeast has already been pummeled by winter not even halfway into the season. The airport serving Hartford, Conn., got a foot of snow, bringing the total for the month so far to 54.9 inches and breaking the all-time monthly record of 45.3 inches, set in December 1945.
Nineteen inches of snow fell on New York City atop the 36 inches it had already seen so far this winter; the city typically sees just 21 inches for the whole season.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it was the snowiest January since the city started keeping records, besting 27.4 inches set in 1925. The accumulation was about twice the amount that had been predicted, he said.
"My biggest fear is if it continues like this all winter, we won't have a place to put it and we'll never get our cars out and we won't even be able to go to the stores," said Virginia Sforza, 61, shoveling her sidewalk in Pelham, in New York's northern suburbs. "The prospect of this continuing is disgusting."
Logan Nielson, 31, who works in advertising in San Francisco, was still recovering Thursday from a harrowing 60-mile drive Wednesday night from Dulles International Airport outside Washington to his hotel in downtown Baltimore. What should have been at most a two-hour trip became a nine-hour ordeal.
"It was a nightmare," he said. "We would sit there for 30-minute periods, not moving," he said. Frustration set in when he had no idea how long he'd be in the car.
"You don't know, 'Am I stuck here for three hours? Am I stuck here till tomorrow?'" he said.
In Massachusetts, travel was made trickier with high winds. Gusts of 46 mph were reported in Hyannis, 45 mph in Rockport and 49 mph on Nantucket early Thursday. In Lynn, Mass., heavy snow collapsed a garage roof and briefly trapped two men inside before they were rescued safely. Some other workers escaped.
New York declared a weather emergency for the second time since the Dec. 26 storm, which trapped hundreds of buses and ambulances and caused a political crisis for the mayor. An emergency declaration means any car blocking roads or impeding snowplows can be towed at the owner's expense.
The city shuttered schools and some government offices, and federal courts in Manhattan and the United Nations headquarters closed. Even the Statue of Liberty shut down for snow removal. Amtrak restored normal service between Boston and New York late Thursday morning.
Flights were getting back up to speed at the area's major airports after many canceled hundreds of flights or closed altogether. New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy had reopened by midmorning, and passengers were flying out from Philadelphia and Washington-area airports.
Residents hunkered down as the storm brought snow, sleet, and then more snow, accompanied by lightning and thunder in a phenomenon called "thundersnow."
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority suspended nearly all bus service, and road crews worked through the night to clear snow. Nine passengers spent the night on a stranded bus, spokeswoman Heather Redfern said.
"I imagine they thought they were better off staying on the warm bus rather than getting off, since they didn't have a place to stay," Redfern said. The passengers had all disembarked by 7:30 a.m.
Crashed, spun-out or merely abandoned cars littered highways in New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic region but were mostly removed by midday Thursday.
After arriving in Washington from Manitowoc, Wis., President Barack Obama couldn't fly on the helicopter that normally takes him home to the White House from a nearby military base. Instead, a motorcade had to snake through Wednesday evening rush hour traffic already slowed by snow and ice.
At least six deaths have been blamed on the storm, including a Baltimore taxi dirver whose cab caught fire after getting stuck in the snow and people killed by snow plows in Delaware, Maryland and New York.
Since Dec. 14, snow has fallen eight times on the New York region — or an average of about once every five days. Much of the Northeast is in a similar boat, resigned to repeated storms as a weather phenomenon off the coast called the North Atlantic Oscillation creates colder air and drops more snow than usual.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Washington; Angie Yack in Gap, Pa; Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y.; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y.; Jessica Gresko in Washington; Karen Matthews, Ula Ilnytzky and Eric Carvin in New York City; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; and Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn.