- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

BOSTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) — The Presidents' Day Blizzard of 2003 stormed through the eastern United States Monday, virtually shutting down Washington, Philadelphia and New York City before slamming into Boston.

Air, rail and highway travel was at a near standstill throughout the region, leaving thousands of holiday travelers stranded.

"Oh my God, this is ridiculous," said a woman standing in the fury of the storm in Hartford, Conn.

In Washington, as trucks and loaders worked to remove snow from downtown streets, some found ways to enjoy the snow, walking or skiing along the National Mall. The National Weather Service said Capitol Hill received 15 inches of snow.

"I think it's fantastic," said Ed Barker, 36, as he prepared to ski across 14th Street to near the Washington Monument. "I grew up in this area, and this doesn't happen that often. When you get snow like this, you have to take advantage of it."

The only problem he was having with his cross-country skis, he said, was people tended to walk in the trails he had broken.

One bright spot was that the blustery storm hit on a holiday when most government offices and schools were closed and highway traffic lighter than normal, making the job easier for snowplows.

"Aren't we lucky this storm hit us on a holiday?" said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The major winter storm was expected to dump more than a foot of snow through New York City and southern New England before moving out to sea Tuesday.

The weather service issued a blizzard warning for New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts through Monday night.

"We're calling it the Blizzard of 2003," meteorologist John Dlugoenski said at AccuWeather's headquarters in State College, Pa. "There is the potential that this could be the biggest storm ever."

Reports said as many as a dozen people had died in storm-related mishaps since Friday. Multiple spinouts and rollovers were reported.

Maryland, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Delaware all declared states of emergency, with others expected to follow suit as the storm batters New York and New England.

Nearly 3 feet of snow was reported in some parts of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. The weather service said Berkeley Springs in Morgan County recorded 37 inches, while Capon Bridge in Hampshire County had 35 inches. Silver Spring, Md., had 25 inches of snow.

In Garrett County, Md., the unofficial snowfall reportedly topped 47 inches.

The weather service said snowfall totals from the storm included 26.6 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, 24.2 inches at Dulles International Airport, and 16.1 inches at Reagan National Airport.

Baltimore had 23 inches on the ground early Monday; Philadelphia, 17; and New York City, a foot, with snow still falling, the weather service said.

New Jersey and Delaware mobilized National Guard troops to help stranded motorists and clear roads.

With snow falling an inch an hour Sunday through Monday morning, it was the heaviest snowfall in Washington, D.C., in decades, and the most since 24-27 inches fell in 1996.

The deepest in Washington came in 1922 when 28 inches fell. That was the so-called Knickerbocker Storm, when about 100 people were killed when heavy snow caused the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater to collapse on them.

Most government employees stayed home Monday because of the holiday, and only emergency personnel were to report to work on Tuesday to facilitate storm cleanup. National monuments and area shopping malls were closed because of the weather, as were many businesses. Many schools have already announced plans to close on Tuesday.

D.D. Mayor Tony Williams told reporters that the local and federal government would remain closed on Tuesday, but emergency personnel and custodial personnel for the region's schools should report to work.

"It is very important that we work tomorrow (Tuesday) to get our schools open," said Williams. The mayor asked residents who live near schools to help get the campuses ready for class on Wednesday.

President George W. Bush had to change his travel plans Sunday because of the snow. The president spent two and a half hours traveling in a 14-vehicle motorcade through the snow from Camp David, Md., to the White House. The trip typically takes about 30 minutes by helicopter.

Vacationers hoping to fly out to warmer climes found themselves stranded at airports and rail stations. Reagan National Airport and Baltimore-Washington International remained closed. Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman with the Washington Airports Authority, said Reagan National was expected to reopen by 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

Dulles International was operating with two runways open. One tour company, Educational Tours of Deerfield, Ill., reported it had some 1,700 students stuck in D.C. by the storm.

Airports in New York, Philadelphia and Boston were reporting numerous cancellations and delays. LaGuardia was closed, but JFK was technically operating, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said service between Washington and Richmond, Va., will remain suspended until Tuesday morning at the earliest.

The section of track, which is owned by CSX Corp., was closed Sunday afternoon due to bad weather stranding hundreds of passengers with tickets to Florida and the Carolinas in Washington.

"If they have no other place to go, we have put passengers in hotel rooms until we are able to get them to their destinations," Stessel told United Press International. He added that the closure has affected eight trains that operate daily between Washington and Miami.

Stessel said service within the Northeast corridor, from Washington through Philadelphia to New York and then Boston, was continuing to operate Monday with only minor delays.

"We've done really well keeping the (Northeast) corridor open and operating," Stessel said. He told UPI that empty trains have been operating overnight to prevent snow from building up on the tracks.

Virginia Railway Express and MARC commuter rail canceled train service Monday, while Washington's Metro subway systems curtailed service.

Thousands of snowplows were struggling to keep up with the accumulating snow. Abandoned cars made it more difficult to clear the roads.

Officials in hard-hit major cities said it would take a couple of days for plows to reach some secondary streets.

Forecasters said the slow-moving blizzard was formed from two separate storms, one from the deep South that swept through the Tennessee Valley and merged with another big storm moving up the Eastern Seaboard. Both storms were trapped by a massive dome of cold air from the north, causing accumulations to rise.

The storm began in Southern California where it caused mudslides last Wednesday before covering the Carolinas with ice on Saturday night.

While the mid-Atlantic regions shifted into a clean-up mode, New Jersey and New York faced snow accumulations to at least a foot with strong winds that created blizzard conditions from Philadelphia into New England.

"It's been a constant battle for us," Guy Costa, director of public works for Allegheny County, Pa., told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We've been plowing since early Sunday morning, and we'll be plowing all night."

Winds blowing above 30 mph and high surf prompted coastal flooding advisories along the New Jersey and Massachusetts shores while Ohio, on the western boundary of the storm, was set for freezing rain and drizzle.

Heavy snow was also forecast for Monday in the mountains of northern Idaho and Montana while snow and winds gusting up to 45 mph were forecast for much of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

(Hil Anderson in Los Angeles and Tobin Beck and Chris Sieroty in Washington contributed to this report.)

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