WASHINGTON, D.C. — A blizzard-like storm rocked the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday, crippling travel across the region and leaving hundreds of thousands of customers without power.
Five deaths appeared to have been caused by the storm system, which stretched from the Carolinas north to New England and also spread into some Midwestern states. The 16 inches of snow that fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever recorded for a single December day, while about 16 inches had also fallen in Philadelphia.
Those who did venture out were treated to nearly desolate stores on what is usually one of the busiest shopping days of the year. There were virtually no lines to get a picture with a mall Santa on the last weekend before Christmas.
The slow-moving storm was headed to the Northeast, where forecasters said parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts could see more than 16 inches by Sunday night. Forecasters expected the storm to drop as many as 10 inches on New York City.
In Maine, the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory Sunday for coastal Hancock and Washington counties, including Ellsworth, Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Machias and Eastport, in effect to 6 p.m. Accumulations of 3 to 6 inches were expected this afternoon, with the highest amounts along the immediate coast and over the outer islands. Elsewhere in the state, 1 to 2 inches of snow could fall in Rockland, with little accumulation expected in Belfast and farther inland in Bangor. Portland could receive 1 to 3 inches, according to the NWS.
A gale warning also was issued along the coast from Stonington, Maine, to Merrimack River, Mass., out to 25 nautical miles, and was in effect through 7 a..m. Monday.
More than 2 feet of snow have fallen in some Mid-Atlantic areas since Friday. Thirty inches of snowfall was reported in Wintergreen, Va., at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Charlottesville. In the nation’s capital, public transportation nearly ground to a halt, but it wasn’t enough to keep senators from staying in session to debate proposed health care overhaul.
In Virginia, State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said traffic was moving slowly. There were reports of jackknifed tractor-trailers and some semis on their sides. Troopers had responded to more than 4,000 traffic crashes and disabled vehicles.
The National Guard used Humvees to rescue stranded motorists in Virginia and some 500 people had sought warmth and refuge in emergency shelters.
One person in Virginia was killed in a traffic accident caused by slick roads, and authorities said the weather may have contributed to another traffic death. A third death is believed to have been caused by exposure. In Ohio, two people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads hit by the same storm system.
Mayors in Washington and Philadelphia declared snow emergencies and forecasters said the conditions could worsen. Governors in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Delaware declared states of emergency.
“It’s going to be an all day thing. It’s going to be on and off,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Witt in Sterling, Va.
Most flights were canceled at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport near Washington, Philadelphia International Airport and at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, creating a ripple effect of delays across the country. BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport near Baltimore also closed Saturday afternoon, and travelers who tried to reach their destinations by train also faced long delays and threats of cancellations.
“It’s going to be very challenging for people who weren’t able to get out today to rebook on flights this week,” said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Delays were also reported for trains between Washington and Boston.
Snow, ice and freezing rain also hit western North Carolina on Friday, knocking out power to almost 60,000 customers around the Asheville area.