Another winter storm packing snow and Arctic cold slammed the northeastern United States on Tuesday, grounding 3,000 flights, shutting down governments and schools and making travel a potential nightmare for millions.
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The storm stretched 1,000 miles between Kentucky and Massachusetts but hit especially hard along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston, creating a perilous ride home for millions of motorists.
States across the northeast declared emergencies and warned residents not to travel during the fast-moving storm, which packed a potentially lethal combination of snow and wind, backed by temperatures up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius) below normal.
“Behind this system is a lot of strong winds, (with) very cold, bitter temperatures, so this snow is going to be around for a while,” said Bruce Sullivan, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
He warned that stranded travelers faced potential frostbite or worse. “That’s the risk you take if you travel in this kind of weather,” Sullivan said.
The snow came down harder and faster than many people expected. Forecasters said some places could get 1 to 2 inches an hour, with wind gusts up to 50 mph. A blizzard warning was posted for parts of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod.
Late in the afternoon, highways in the New York City metropolitan area were jammed, and blowing snow tripled or even quadrupled drive times.
The storm was blamed for at least one death in Maryland after a car fishtailed into the path of a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered road about 50 miles northwest of Baltimore. The car’s driver was thrown from the vehicle.
Forecasters said the storm could bring 10 to 14 inches of snow to Philadelphia and southern New England and up to a foot in New York City, to be followed by bitter cold as arctic air from Canada streams in. Washington was expecting 4 to 8 inches.
This one was a conventional storm that developed off the coast and moved its way up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the arctic. Unlike the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it was not caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole.
Pennsylvania’s Transportation Department said it had already blown through more than half of its $189 million winter weather budget.
About 3,000 airline flights in the United States were canceled, according to FlightAware.com, a tracking service. More than 1,000 flights for Wednesday were called off as well. The bad weather left thousands of air travelers wondering when they were going to get home.
“I rushed to the airport, but (my flight) just got canceled,” said Sumeet Kapoor, 24, a North Carolina State University graduate student who was on his way from Washington’s Reagan National Airport to Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I actually had a class at 6, but I’m going to be late, I guess,” he said.
Amtrak planned to cut back train service in the afternoon.
The rush to get home early by many workers was evident in Philadelphia, where many commuter trains were packed.
The storm put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s inauguration, forcing the cancellation of an evening party on Ellis Island. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick postponed his annual State of the State address, while the Philadelphia Flyers postponed their Tuesday night hockey game.
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Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky stayed closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, or sent students home early. Some parents kept their kids home all day, unwilling to put them on slippery roads for a few hours of school.
Federal workers in the Washington area were also given the day off.
In Herndon, Va., where voters were casting ballots in a special election that was likely to determine control of the state Senate, Earlene Coleman said she felt obligated to make her selection: “It only made sense to come out and do my duty.”
Sullivan, the meteorologist, said the cold snap would be followed by two more polar fronts through the weekend. One would hit the Great Lakes region, and the other the upper Great Plains, he said.