NEW YORK – A mammoth blizzard that set single-day snowfall records in Washington and New York City gave way Sunday to brilliant sunshine and gently rising temperatures, enabling millions to dig out and enjoy the winter.
The timing could not have been better: The heaviest snow began falling Friday evening, and tapered off just before midnight Saturday. Millions heeded calls to stay home, enabling road crews to clear snow and ice. Grimy cities were blanketed, making for lovely scenes with unfamiliar terrains.
"It feels like old times when there weren't any cars," said Taylor Scheulke, an associate producer at National Geographic television who made a 36-hour time-lapse video of snow piling up outside her Washington home and posted it on YouTube.
Waist-high piles of white blocked Manhattan bus stops, forcing riders to wait on the streets, inches from traffic. Judy Tenenbaum refused to risk it, instead walking a dozen blocks on the Upper West Side to reach a stop where a plow had cleared at least some of the snow.
"I decided, I don't want to die," she said before boarding a bus to the YMCA.
The storm dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England. The heaviest official report was 42 inches, in Glengary, West Virginia, but the record accumulations in the nation's capital and its largest city brought life to a standstill, stranding tens of thousands of travelers and forcing many events to be cancelled.
Two-dozen deaths were blamed on the weather, initially mostly in car crashes, and later while shoveling snow. In Passaic, N.J., on Sunday, a mother and year-old son watching their family shovel snow from the apparent safety of their car died of carbon monoxide poisoning; snow blocked the tailpipe. Her 3-year-old daughter, also in the car, was in critical condition, The Record reported.
The storm dropped 26.8 inches in Central Park, the second-most recorded since 1869 and just short of 26.9 inches set in February 2006. But the 26.6 inches that fell on Saturday was the city's record for a single day.
In Washington, where the 22.4 inches recorded at the National Zoo beat the 21 inches that fell on Jan. 28, 1922, anyone frustrated by the zoo's decision to remain closed through Monday could watch its giant panda Tian Tian making snow angels online. That video got 47 million views and counting.
Joining the fun, Jeffrey Perez got more than half a million views after putting on a full-body panda suit and rolling around in the snow outside his home in Millersville, Maryland.
Watching her young daughters frolic in the snow in Toms River, N.J., Mary Desmond joked that they had made it through the storm "without killing any one."
"With little ones the cabin fever is really strong," she said. "They were really excited that it finally snowed here and wanted to play in it."
Coastal cities saw some flooding, but as predicted, the impact was nothing like Superstorm Sandy.
Roofs collapsed on a church in Pennsylvania and a historic theater in Virginia, causing no injuries. The roof also fell on a barn outside Frederick, Maryland, which got a total of 33.5 inches. That one killed some of the cows a farmer had herded inside.
"It kills me because I killed them by putting them in the barn," Douglas Fink said. "I was trying to protect them, but they probably would have been better off just standing outside."
The winds reached hurricane-force of 75 mph at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service said. From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30 mph and gusted to around 50 mph. What's more, there were bursts of thunder and lightning.
Complications were still in store for the Monday morning commute. With more than 7,000 weekend flights canceled, air travel remained messy. But with 30 hours or more to restore power and clear streets after the last flakes fell, millions of people expected to be able to slog back to work.
That didn't stop the House of Representatives from postponing votes until February, citing the storm's impact on travel.
United Airlines said limited service might begin later Sunday in New York City, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport expected some arrivals late in the day, but other Washington-area airports were expected to closed, and some airlines began cutting Monday service.
In New York, Bruce Springsteen canceled his Sunday concert at Madison Square Garden, but Broadway shows were resuming on the Great White Way after going dark at the last minute on Saturday.
With gorgeous blue skies and sunshine, the day was just right for snowball fights. More than 600 people RSVP's to organizer Aaron Brazell's invite on Facebook.
"I knew people would be cooped up in their houses and wanting to come outside," he said as he was beaned by multiple blasts of perfectly soft but firm snow.
"I like the snow because it's a great equalizer. It puts everyone in the same place at the same time, Mepi Myers said as she walked to brunch in Baltimore. "People who normally wouldn't call out to each other are helping their neighbors."
Contributors include Associated Press writers William Mathis, Scott Mayerowitz and Jake Pearson in New York; Alex Brandon and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Jessica Gresko in Arlington, Virginia; and Juliet Linderman in Baltimore.