Storm clutches Northeast in a snowy, icy grip; D.C. shut down

WASHINGTON -- A full-blown nor'easter huffed and puffed its way through the mid-Atlantic region Thursday, shutting airports and government offices a day after the storm battered much of the Old South, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity and many heeding warnings to stay home and avoid dangerous roads.

Up to more than a foot of snow had fallen in parts of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and the storm was still packing plenty of power as it punched its way through the metropolitan New York area, heading toward New England. In a winter that has already seen many snowfall records blown away by a series of furious storms, the current blizzard was pouring more grief onto shoulders already weary of the seemingly never-ending cycle of digging out and preparing anew.


At least 14 deaths have been reported in the storm's march across the South and more than 600,000 customers remained without electricity as utilities from Arkansas to New Jersey fought to repair power lines downed by heavy ice and falling trees. More than 10,000 flights have been canceled and the economy has taken a hit as shoppers stayed home.

In the nation's capital, the biggest storm of the season shut down the federal government, airports and schools, creating an Olympic-like challenge for anyone trying to get around. It further taxed residents weary of the cold weather, snow days and canceled meetings.

Even if anyone wanted to go out, it wasn't going to be easy getting anywhere, with more than a foot of snow already on the ground in some areas and more forecast through the day.

Cancellations mounted throughout the day. Vice President Joe Biden canceled a trip to address the House Democrats' retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Also canceled: the Disney on Ice show at the Verizon Center. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority suspended bus service due to "extremely hazardous travel conditions'' and warned commuters that above-ground sections of the rail system could be shut down.

Runways were closed at Dulles International and Reagan National airports.

With the exception of an occasional car or two, the roads are quiet around Foggy Bottom in the district's downtown. By one entrance to the State Department, there was only a security guard standing by several large bags of salt.

"It's the worst [snow] we've had in the last four years," Malcolm Griffin said on his way to work. "I think this may be worse than last year."

Demi Skipper, who said she has lived in the district her whole life and was on her way back from picking up files at the Capitol, was stoic.

"People freak out for no reason and things just close," she said.

Some were trying to find ways around cabin fever, an emotional danger given the number of days spent indoors because of the frequent storms this year.

In the Annapolis, Md., area, a Jeff Solsby, born and raised in Southern California, planned to go exploring in his four-wheel-drive truck.

"Thus far today, our street isn't plowed and only a few hardy souls have ventured out,'' he said. "Our dog is upset because we won't let him run off leash in the piles of snow; the kids are upset because the snow is too mushy and wet for sledding; and, mom and dad are praying the power stays on so we can deploy the nuclear option for child care -- Disney movies!"

But any kind of travel remained a problem as governors up and down the East Coast declared states of emergency and warned motorists to remain inside.


John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic's Washington office said in an email that many roads were "littered with disabled cars.'' Virginia state police reported one weather-related road fatality, the 14th in recent days in the South.

In Garrett County, Md., county administrator Monty Pagenhardt echoed the sentiment of many mid-Atlantic residents who have endured a winter of very cold temperatures.

"I'm just getting tired of it,'' he said.

In New York, the snow was hard, nearly hail-like, and had piled up on sidewalks and steps by early Thursday morning. Trucks and cars slid on the snowy roads, icy from previous storm, and in many parts of the city, unplowed. Wind gusts reached 20 mph in the morning and a winter storm warning was in effect until 6 a.m. Friday.

Schools were not canceled, leading some parents and kids to trek across unshoveled sidewalks, and other students to just stay home. Others took to Twitter in anger, blaming Mayor Bill de Blasio for telling people to stay off the roads but keeping schools open.

Brian Troffer was leading his 6-year-old daughter across an unshoveled sidewalk in Brooklyn on her way to school. He said he had to check online to make sure there was school, but sure enough, schools were open. Then, he was going to head into work.

His daughter, Zoe, dawdled, jumping in the snowbanks and generally reveling in the snow, although the wind was whipping the icy snow horizontal, causing it to sting cheeks.

Troffer said he was sick of the winter. Was Zoe?

"No!" she said.

Many school districts outside of New York City canceled school or opened late; state courts are closed outside of the city as well.

"Because of its timing and intensity, this storm is going to make both the morning and evening rush hours extremely difficult," De Blasio said Wednesday.

Antonio Rodriguez was out shoveling the sidewalk in front of the hair salon where he works in Brooklyn on Thursday morning. It was one of the only sidewalks clear of snow on the block. So few sidewalks were shoveled that it took Rodriguez 20 minutes to walk to work--it usually takes 10.

"People must be staying in, or just waiting for more snow to fall," he said. It is supposed to snow throughout the day.

It's Rodriguez's fifth time shoveling the walkway this winter, he said. He thought about staying home, and forgetting about yet another cold morning of shoveling.

"But then I thought of all the other people who had to go to work and school, and I came in," he said.

While the Northeast braced, the South was trying to recover. Much of the storm was over but the effect had been large on an area not used to dealing with snow and ice. At least 13 inches of snow had fallen in Laurel Ridge, Va.; 11 inches in Lake Toxaway, N.C.; and 10 inches in Cullman, Ala., according to the National Weather Service.

A half inch of ice has been reported across a wide area of central Georgia, enshrouding places like Augusta and Marietta. An inch of ice coated Orangeburg, S.C., where the state asked people not to drive until the storm passes.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory again asked drivers to stay off the roads as the state braced for another one to three inches of snow that was expected to blanket major highways crews had just cleared from Wednesday's snow and ice storm.

"The bottom line is, this storm is still dangerous,'' McCrory said at a mid-morning news conference in Raleigh, N.C. "Stay at home unless it's an emergency.''


As National Guard troops and highway patrol officers rescued motorists from abandoned cars and checked other vehicles left on the roadsides during Wednesday's massive traffic jams, people struggled to dig out their cars from roadsides. The North Carolina highway patrol responded to nearly 3,000 calls for assistance and 1,900 traffic accidents, according to the patrol commander, Col. Bill Grey.

The governor said only cars blocking travel lanes were being towed – about 140 vehicles by mid-morning. Hundreds of other cars scattered across highway shoulders and medians will not be towed, McCrory said.

Motorists who can safely get to their abandoned cars on cleared roads before snow arrives later Thursday should move their vehicles, McCrory said. Otherwise, they should wait until after crews clear roads from Thursday's expected snowfall, he said.

"Use your common sense,'' said the governor, who spent most of the night at the state emergency center in the capital, Raleigh. "If anyone is left in their car, we'll find them and help them.''

Another huge problem was the downed power lines. Hundreds of thousands were still without power.

In Atlanta, temperatures were forecast to rise during the day, but drop below freezing again overnight. Forecasters warned of the danger of black ice. Georgia Power, whose customers are concentrated in the metro Atlanta area, said about 462,000 homes and businesses have lost power at some point during the storm, though about 200,000 have had service restored. More than 5 million people live in the metro area.

Still there was some joy over having a play day.

Hope Winston, 28, a correctional officer shopping at a Giant market, said the snow "is beautiful. This is what we need ... the more snow the better."

She said she expected to spend the day off playing video games and playing with the dog.

It's a  "lousy day, lazy day," she said.

Simon reported from Washington and Semuels from New York. Staff writers Daniel Rothberg and Lalita Clozel contributed form Washington; David Zucchino in North Carolina and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles also contributed.