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Hundreds of Flights Canceled as Storm Pounds Eastern US

A pedestrian crosses the Smithfiled Street Bridge in Pittsburgh.
Getty Images
A pedestrian crosses the Smithfiled Street Bridge in Pittsburgh.

A powerful winter storm responsible for wind, snow, tornadoes and a flurry of traffic accidents battered the U.S. Northeast on Thursday, canceling hundreds of airline flights but also reviving what had been a snowless ski season.

The storm dumped a foot of snow on parts of the United States with the heaviest snow falling across northern New York and into New England, the National Weather Service reported.

"It feels lovely to have wonderful snow for the kids to play in, and I think it's the kind of snow that's good for making forts and snowmen,'' said Katryna Nields, a musician in Conway, Massachusetts, who was outside her home shoveling snow.

The National Weather Service forecast 12 to 18 inches (30.5 to 46 cm) of snow for northern New England as the storm moved northeast out of the lower Great Lakes, where it dumped more than a foot (30.5 cm) of snow in parts of Michigan. (Slideshow: 10 Most Expensive Hurricanes in US History)

Airlines canceled nearly 700 flights on Thursday after 1,500 U.S. flights were canceled on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com, a website that tracks flights.

Some flights into and out of the three major New York City area airports - Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia - were delayed due to the weather, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

The weather service forecast 12 to 18 inches of snow for northern New England, accompanied by freezing rain and sleet, creating hazards on the highways and at airports.

The snow also brought renewed hope for winter recreation across upstate and western New York.

About 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) of snow fell on Buffalo overnight. Light snow and freezing drizzle persisted throughout the morning hours, with as much as another inch or two possible in some areas.

Before Wednesday evening's snow, Buffalo was 23 inches (58 cm) below average for this time of year, the weather service said.

"It's just a reminder, winter is here,'' said Tom Paone of the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

Daniel Ivancic, of the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda, said he bought a snowmobile last winter that has sat largely idle with snow totals well below average.

"I waited and waited and, no snow. This winter it seemed like the same thing was going to happen until the storm hit,'' Ivancic said. ``I'm just going to take advantage of every minute of it."

Retailers, still in the holiday shopping season, expected sales would continue with consumers looking for winter items.

"People are out spending anyway. Weather can trigger what you purchase - not if you purchase, but what you purchase,'' said Evan Gold, senior vice president of client services at Planalytics, which tracks weather for businesses including retailers.

Police patrolling the New York State Thruway from Buffalo to Albany reported as many as 50 accidents, mostly involving cars that slipped off snowy roads overnight.

The massive storm system dumped record snow in north Texas and Arkansas before it swept through the U.S. South on Christmas Day and then veered north.

The system triggered tornadoes and left almost 200,000 people in Arkansas and Alabama without power on Wednesday. Authorities said an 81-year-old man died in Georgiana, Alabama after a tree fell on his home.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday toured hard-hit sections of Mobile, where a high school and dozens of homes were damaged and historic oak trees were uprooted.

Residents were carting wheelbarrows filled with debris and tree limbs and, in the city's business district, workers removed pieces of the smashed top floor of Cantrell's photography studio, where a young Jimmy Buffett recorded in the late 1960s.

Virginia authorities responded to nearly 700 car crashes on Wednesday, most of which were due to snow and ice around the Interstate 81 corridor.

A Southwest Airlines jet skidded off the runway on Thursday at Long Island's MacArthur Airport, about 50 miles (80 km) east of New York City, as it taxied for takeoff, Suffolk County police said.

None of the 134 people aboard Tampa-bound flight No. 4695 was injured, police said. "It's been undetermined at this time if weather was a factor,'' a police spokeswoman said.

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