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East Coast 'snow belt' buckles under another powerful storm

Schools closed, governments sent workers home early, and planes were grounded Wednesday in an all-too-familiar routine along the East Coast as another snowstorm swept over a region already beaten down by a winter not even half over.

"I fell three times trying to get off the steps," commuter Elliot Self said after leaving an elevated train in Philadelphia. "I just want the snow to stop. I want the sun again. I want to feel just a little bit of warmth."

Millions of people got that oh-no-not-again feeling as the wet and sloppy storm engulfed the Northeast, where snowbanks in some places were already so high that drivers couldn't see around corners.

Classes were called off and commutes were snarled from Tennessee to New England as cars and buses slipped and slid on highways. The New York City area's airports, among the nation's busiest, saw hundreds of delayed or canceled flights. Pedestrians struggled across icy patches that were on their way to becoming deep drifts.

Kentucky had half a foot of snow by Wednesday morning. Eight to 12 inches of snow was forecast for New York City, which had already seen 36 inches of snow this season in comparison with the full-winter average of 21 inches. New Jersey and Philadelphia could get up to 8 inches, and high winds are expected before the storm moves out early today.

Rain drenched the nation's capital for most of the day and changed to sleet before it started snowing in earnest at midafternoon. Washington was expected to get up to 10 inches of snow.

The snow and icy roads created hazardous conditions for President Obama as he returned to the White House on Wednesday after a post-State of the Union trip to Manitowoc, Wis. The wintry weather grounded Marine One, the helicopter that typically transports Obama to and from the military base where Air Force One lands. Instead, Obama was met at the plane by his motorcade, which spent an hour weaving through rush-hour traffic already slowed by the storm. It normally takes the president's motorcade about 20 minutes to travel between the base and the White House.

Since Dec. 14, snow has fallen eight times on the New York region -- or an average of about once every five days. That includes the blizzard that dropped 20 inches on the city and paralyzed travel after Christmas.

New York City declared a weather emergency for the second time since the Dec. 26 storm, which did not generate an emergency declaration but 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.

More than 600 flights were canceled at the area's three major airports -- LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty. About 300 flights were canceled at the Philadelphia airport.

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