Sunday, December 20, 2009

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A fierce weekend storm that dropped record snowfall and stranded travelers along the East Coast from Virginia to New England turned out by Sunday not to be as naughty as many had feared — and its nicest accomplishment simply may be leaving many with the prospect of a very white Christmas.

Residents throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast mostly holed up for the weekend, then dug out from as much as 2 feet of snow to find sunny, mostly calm skies under a blanket of white unspoiled by car exhaust and passers-by.

Matthew Laquinta was vindicated by the 15 inches of snow outside the Providence home he shares with daughter Emma, 7, who didn’t believe the night before that the weather might keep them from visiting relatives on Sunday.

“I was like, ‘Come on, where’s the snow?’” Emma said. “And I didn’t think there’d be any.”

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Neighbors shoveling snow in front of their homes Sunday in East Providence shrugged it off as a mild inconvenience that had the decency to come on a weekend.

“It’s less of a disruption,” said Chloe Kline, a 35-year-old musician. “I don’t have to get out to go to school or work or anything like that.”

To the south, others struggled with the aftermath of the storm that stranded hundreds of motorists in Virginia and knocked out power to thousands, but could have been much worse.

On the cusp of the winter solstice, the storm dropped 16.4 inches of snow on Reagan National Airport near Washington on Saturday — the most ever recorded there for a single December day — and gave southern New Jersey its highest single-storm snowfall totals in nearly four years.

The National Weather Service said the storm gave Philadelphia, which began keeping records in 1884, its second-largest snowfall: 23.2 inches. Even more was recorded in the Philadelphia suburb of Medford, N.J., at 24 inches.

Around New York City, the brunt of the storm hit Long Island, with whiteout conditions and 26.3 inches in Upton, an all-time record since measurements began in 1949. Nearly 11 inches of snow fell on New York City, and the storm could be the worst the city has seen since about 26 inches fell in February 2006, National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Maloit said.

Pragmatic New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg encouraged residents and holiday visitors to take advantage of cancellations by seeing a Broadway show. The mayor said city retailers weren’t hard hit because the snow held off until late Saturday.

Even as the storm wound down in the New York area, conditions remained treacherous, and drivers were advised to stay off the roads, Mr. Maloit said. Bus, subways and trains were delayed, including a Long Island Rail Road train with about 150 passengers that was stalled for more than five hours before backing up and unloading them.

Airports in the Northeast that were jammed up Saturday were working their way back to normal operations. About 1,200 flights at the New York area’s three major airports remained canceled despite clear conditions on the runways.

By Sunday morning, one runway atWashington Dulles International Airport was open, handling arriving flights, spokeswoman Tara Hamilton. At Reagan National, crews were still moving “huge quantities of snow” in the hopes of opening the airport by midday.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport struggled to get back up to full speed, with some airlines still canceling flights. At Boston’s Logan International Airport, where it was still snowing Sunday morning, spokesman Phil Orlandella said flights have been “on and off.” Monday looked to be a normal day, he said.

Philadelphia International Airport shut down Saturday night but began to reopen early Sunday. Spokeswoman Phyllis Van Istendal said operations would ramp up later in the day.

Al Wachlin, 70, lives in Philadelphia but grew up in Maine and was well prepared for the storm, with a truck and an attached plow. With a scraper in one hand and a brush in another, he worked to clear off his truck.

“This part of it’s great,” said Mr. Wachlin, who has lived in the city since 1960. “It’s the cleanup, the rutted streets where you go sliding into the intersection, that’s the whole problem.”

In many places the problem was where to put the snow. On south Philadelphia’s narrow streets, residents shoveling sidewalks resigned themselves to the snow eventually returning as traffic displaced it from the street.

Merchants feared they’d take a hit as the storm blew through on the last weekend before Christmas. Shoppers who did venture out made the most of it.

James Phyfe, 35, of Cranston, R.I., took advantage of the meager crowds to buy some gifts, including a toy soccer ball, for his toddler son.

“I came out because I knew there’d be no crowds around,” he said.

In Washington, police investigated why a plainclothes officer drew a gun during a snowball fight organized on Twitter. Witness Lacy MacAuley told The Washington Post the fight was harmless fun until the officer arrived.

The storm began wreaking misery Friday in South Florida, where it caused flooding and knocked out electricity in the Carolinas before turning to snow as it moved north.

One person in Virginia was killed in a traffic accident, and authorities said the weather may have contributed to another traffic death there. A third death in Virginia is believed to have been caused by exposure. In Ohio, two people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads.

Greyhound shut down service Saturday in Washington and farther north, and ferry service between Delaware and New Jersey was canceled. Attractions such as the Smithsonian museums in Washington and the Philadelphia Zoo were closed both Saturday and Sunday.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, N.J.; Sarah Karush in Washington; Dena Potter in Chesterfield, Va.; Jacob Jordan in Atlanta; David Porter in Atlantic City, N.J.; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J.; Ron Todt and Patrick Walters in Philadelphia; and AP photographer Jacquelyn Martin in Arlington, Va.

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