BOSTON – The Northeast girded itself as a fast-moving storm moved full-force into the region overnight, bringing an icy mix of snow and rain, stranding hundreds of airplane passengers, leaving more than 300,000 customers in and around the nation’s capital without power, and making roads treacherous for Thursday morning commuters.
The storm promoted the Maine Turnpike Authority to order drivers to slow down to help them cope with snowy roads. Just before 2 a.m. Thursday the turnpike authority reduced speed to 45 mph on the turnpike from Kittery to exit 109 in Augusta.
Elsewhere, public schools remained closed for a second day Thursday and motorists were warned of dangerous road conditions. In New York City, the LIRR suspended passenger train service systemwide because of the storm. City bus service also was suspended.
In a region already contending with above-average snowfall this season, the storm that began Wednesday added several more inches. Meteorologists predicted up to 10 inches could fall in the Washington, D.C., area; 14 inches in New York City, and about 11 inches in Philadelphia and Boston before sunshine returns Thursday.
In Portsmouth, N.H., workers were nearly out of room to stash their plowed snow.
“We probably have a five-story snow dump right now,” said Portsmouth public works director David Allen. “It’s time to get a lift up on it and we could probably do a ski run.”
Through Tuesday, Boston had received 50.4 inches of snow, a nearly 270 percent increase over normal snowfalls of 18.8 inches at the same time in the season. The central Massachusetts city of Worcester had gotten 49.3 inches while the norm is 28.7 inches. Providence, R.I., had recorded 31.7 inches for the season, twice the norm of 15.7 inches.
Meteorologist Neil Strauss of the National Weather Service warned of traveling in the storm and said gusts in Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts could reach 40 mph to 50 mph. Parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island were expected to get thunderstorms, “somewhat unusual” for this time of year, he said.
As the storm approached Wednesday, schools were closed, governments sent workers home early, and commutes were snarled. Cars and buses slipped and slid on highways. Pedestrians struggled across icy patches that were on their way to becoming deep drifts.
Massachusetts State Police blamed the storm on an accident that sent a state trooper to the hospital. The unidentified trooper suffered minor injuries when his vehicle crashed into a median barrier on Route 93 in Boston as he was on his way to work Wednesday night.
The New York area’s three major airports, among the nation’s busiest, saw more than 1,000 flights canceled. Philadelphia International Airport expected more than 1,000 passengers would be stranded because of cancellations. City bus service was suspended.
Rain drenched the nation’s capital for most of the day and changed to sleet before it started snowing in earnest at mid-afternoon. The snow and icy roads created hazardous conditions for President Barack Obama as he returned to the White House after a post-State of the Union trip to Manitowoc, Wis.
The wintry weather grounded Marine One, the helicopter that typically transports Obama to and from the military base where Air Force One lands. Instead, the president was met at the plane by his motorcade, which spent an hour weaving through rush hour traffic already slowed by the storm. It normally takes the president’s motorcade about 20 minutes to travel between the base and the White House.
Officials urged residents in Washington and Maryland to stay off the roads as snow, thunder and lightning pounded the Mid-Atlantic region. In D.C., Metro transit officials pulled buses off the roads as conditions deteriorated. Firefighters warned the heavy snow was bringing down power lines and causing outages.
In Pennsylvania, residents hunkered down as a one-two punch of the winter storm brought snow, sleet, and then more snow, which forecasters said could total a foot in some areas. Philadelphia declared a snow emergency as of Wednesday evening, ordering cars removed from emergency routes. When a commuter bus arrived more than an hour late Wednesday night in Philadelphia after a treacherous trip from New York, passengers applauded the driver.
Northwest, in Hatfield Township, Pa., residents were scared by thunder claps and blinding lightning in a rare thundersnow, a thunderstorm with heavy snow instead of rain.
Since Dec. 14, snow has fallen eight times on the New York region — or an average of about once every five days. That includes the blizzard that dropped 20 inches on New York City and paralyzed travel after Christmas. When the snows arrived Wednesday, the city had already seen 36 inches of snow this season in comparison with the full-winter average of 21 inches.
The city declared a weather emergency for the second time since the Dec. 26 storm, which trapped hundreds of buses and ambulances and caused a political crisis for the mayor. An emergency declaration means any car blocking roads or impeding snowplows can be towed at the owner’s expense.
In the suburbs, a pickup truck plowing a snow-covered parking lot struck and killed a Long Island woman Wednesday afternoon, police said.
In New Jersey, state workers were sent home early and schools closed as the storm brought more snow than anticipated Wednesday morning. A second band of snow began falling in the evening. The NJ Transit agency allowed customers to use bus tickets for rail travel, and vice versa, to get home any way they could.
New Jersey also was looking at up to a foot of snow, and high winds were expected before the storm moves out early Thursday.
In suburban Silver Spring, Md., nurse Tiffany Horairy said as she waited for a bus that she was getting tired of the constant pecking of minor or moderate storms.
“I’d rather get something like last year, with all the snow at once,” she said.
In Kentucky, where several inches of snow fell, a man who lost control of his pickup truck on an ice-covered road and got out of it was hit and killed by another truck that lost control on the same patch.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y.; Ula Ilnytzky in New York City; Lynne Tuohy in Concord, N.H.; Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn.; and Angie Yack, Erin Vanderberg and Patrick Walters in Philadelphia.