Midwest Storm Hits Northeast; Snarls Air Travel, Trains Delayed
Sleet stung the faces of pedestrians and snow and ice coated windshields and streets Wednesday as the Valentine's Day blizzard shut down schools and air travel and turned highways into skating rinks.
Nearly 300,000 homes and business had lost electrical service in the cold weather. At least 12 deaths were blamed on the huge storm system.
Thousands of schools were closed in states from Maine to Kentucky, some in the Midwest for a second day, and in Washington the federal government decided to open offices two hours late.
The slippery streets and sidewalks created a challenge for florists trying to deliver Valentine's Day flowers.
"People have to understand, we can't do it if it gets really bad. Other than that, we'll kill ourselves to get it delivered," said florist Dan Filer, whose shop in the Cleveland area was double-wrapping arrangements to protect them from the cold.
At Schenectady, N.Y., only one of Zalondek Veronica Floral's four delivery people got to work on time. In some parts of Ohio, business closings included florists and gift shops that had been counting on a busy Valentine's Day.
The snow and ice caused spinouts, fender-benders and traffic snarls during the morning commute.
The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for parts of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, where as much as 2 feet of snow was possible. Maine Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency to ensure deliveries of heating oil, and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer activated the National Guard to help with snow emergencies.
"We're geared up to handle snow. Barring a four-foot snow we're ready for it," said Dana Wardwell, director of public works in Bangor, Maine.
Most of upstate New York reported several inches of new snow Wednesday morning with 10 inches at Owego, on the Pennsylvania line. The weather service said some places around the state could receive as much as 3 feet.
However, the brunt of the storm bypassed towns near the east end of Lake Ontario that had been buried by 10 feet and more of lake-effect snow over the past week.
More than a foot of snow had fallen in parts of Indiana and stiff wind piled it into drifts as high as 9 feet. Springfield, Ill., measured 16 inches.
Snowfall tapered off Wednesday in Illinois but many counties had closed some or all rural roads until the snow stopped drifting. Some Ohio counties closed roads to all but emergency workers Wednesday and warned that anyone else on the roads could be arrested.
"We have a lot of trucks parked pretty much everywhere, clogging up the whole parking lot," said sales clerk Nathan Robinson at the Auburn Travel Center truck stop about 10 miles south of Springfield, Ill., off Interstate 55.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at Albany, Boston, New York City, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
Amtrak reported up to one-hour delays between Boston and Washington because of signal problems, and regional commuter railroads also had delays.
National Guard armories and other facilities were opened in Indiana as shelters for stalled travelers and local residents who lacked heat. Three to five busloads of residents were taken to a shelter at Jennings County High School in southern Indiana, the state homeland security agency said.
School closings across Pennsylvania were estimated at more than 2,000, including all schools in Philadelphia. Thousands of Pennsylvania state workers were given the day off. The University of Illinois in Champaign canceled classes Tuesday and Wednesday, shuttering the school for the first time since 1979.
At least 108,000 customers were without power across Ohio, and more than 14,000 customers were blacked out in northern Kentucky. Maryland's four biggest utilities reported about 120,000 customers without power statewide, 36,000 customers were blacked out in New Jersey and more than 4,500 Duke Energy customers remained without power in Indiana.
The huge weather system's snow and ice had been blamed for three deaths in Nebraska; two each in Indiana, New Jersey and Delaware; and one each in Missouri and Ohio, and a tornado on the southern side of the huge weather system killed one person in Louisiana.