- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

Vehicles clog the downtown streets of the District of Columbia on Wednesday. Icy roads created hazardous travel conditions for President Obama as he returned to the White House after a trip to Wisconsin. His driver spent an hour weaving through rush-hour traffic. (Associated Press)
Vehicles clog the downtown streets of the District of Columbia on Wednesday. ... more >

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.

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