NEW YORK – A storm that had been predicted for days caught much of the East Coast off guard with its ferocity, tearing through with lightning, thunder and mounds of wet snow, leaving nearly 300,000 customers around the nation's capital without power Thursday and forcing people to shovel out their cars and doorsteps all over again.
The forecast had called for up to a foot of snow in parts of the region but the storm brought far more in spots. New York got 19 inches, Philadelphia 17. Public schools closed for a second day Thursday, including the nation's largest system in New York City, and motorists were warned to stay off slick roads.
Snow totals in the Washington area ranged from about 3 inches to nearly 7.
"What a mess," said Andy Kolstad, a 65-year-old federal statistician from Silver Spring, Md., who had to walk half an hour uphill to his local Metro subway station to travel to Washington because there was no bus service. "There was no point in staying home because I couldn't have breakfast in the dark," he said.
Tens of thousands of residents in other parts of the region also lost power.
The region has already been pummeled by winter not even halfway into the season. Nineteen inches of snow fell on New York City atop the 36 inches it had already seen so far this winter; the city typically sees just 21 inches for the whole season.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it was the snowiest January since the city started keeping records, besting 27.4 inches set in 1925. The accumulation was about twice the amount that had been predicted, he said.
Virginia Sforza, 61, shoveling her sidewalk in Pelham, in New York's northern suburb said, "My biggest fear is if it continues like this all winter, we won't have a place to put it and we'll never get our cars out and we won't even be able to go to the stores."
"The prospect of this continuing is disgusting," she added.
At his home in Gap, Pa., 45-year-old Chuck DeSeantis lamented what lay ahead of him after a treacherous commute Thursday: shoveling cars out of snow at the Nissan dealership where he's a sales manager.
"Normally it is a 15-minute commute; now it will probably take an hour to hour and a half to get there," he said. "I'll dig out my three cars here, and then I'll dig out 350 cars at the dealership."
In Massachusetts, travel was made trickier with high winds. Gusts of 46 mph were reported in Hyannis, 45 mph in Rockport and 49 mph on Nantucket early Thursday. In Lynn, Mass., heavy snow collapsed a garage roof and briefly trapped two men inside before they were rescued safely. Some other workers escaped.
New York 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.
The city shuttered schools and some government offices, and federal courts in Manhattan and the United Nations headquarters closed. Even the Statue of Liberty shut down for snow removal. New York's Long Island Rail Road, the nation's largest commuter rail line, operated on a reduced schedule. Amtrak restored normal service between Boston and New York late Thursday morning after cancellations, delays and schedule changes caused by the storm.
Two major New York-area airports, Newark and Kennedy, closed for snow removal but began taking flights at 10 a.m. Hundreds of flights were canceled at both airports. LaGuardia Airport had 168 cancellations. About 1,500 passengers were stranded overnight at Philadelphia International Airport, according to spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.
Flights also resumed at airports in the Washington region after overnight runway closures and flight cancelations that left hundreds of travelers stranded.
Northeast of New York in New Canaan, Conn., a Metro-North commuter train ran off the tracks, suspending service. Its two passengers and crew members were not injured.
A New York Waterway commuter ferry carrying 20 passengers across the Hudson was shut down briefly when ice jammed a water intake.
Residents hunkered down as the storm brought snow, sleet, and then more snow, accompanied by lightning and thunder in a phenomenon called "thundersnow."
But others found the weather provided a creative outlet.
In Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, the winter scene was so picture-postcard beautiful Thursday morning that the sidewalks were full of amateur shutterbugs taking photos of snow-laden trees.
"It's so pretty," said Chris Baptiste, pointing his Olympus at a 20-foot evergreen before he turned his attention to the birches across the street. "It's shaped like a Christmas tree."
The Philadelphia area's transit agency, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, suspended nearly all bus service, and road crews worked through the night to gets tons of snow off major arteries.
Nine passengers spent the night on board a bus that got stranded in the city's West Oak Lane neighborhood, spokeswoman Heather Redfern said.
"I imagine they thought they were better off staying on the warm bus rather than getting off, since they didn't have a place to stay," Redfern said. The passengers had all disembarked by 7:30 a.m.
More than 15,000 people lost power in the Philadelphia area, with thousands more in the dark in New Jersey and the New York area. Over 80,000 were without power in parts of Maryland.
Crashed, spun-out or disabled cars littered highways. More than 250 cars were disabled on New Jersey highways since Wednesday. Officials in the mid-Atlantic region worked to remove dozens of cars and tractor-trailers abandoned by motorists at the height of the storm.
Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman Kim Frum said crews plowed around abandoned vehicles and got tow trucks to move them. Firefighters in the Washington area warned that the heavy snow was bringing down power lines.
After arriving in Washington from Manitowoc, Wis., President Barack Obama couldn't fly on the helicopter that normally takes him home to the White House from a nearby military base. Instead, a motorcade had to snake through Wednesday evening rush hour traffic already slowed by snow and ice.
One person died after a tree fell on a pickup truck in Washington. Several others in the truck were injured. On New York's Long Island, there were two weather-related fatalities. One woman was killed when a plow truck backed into her in a parking lot. In the other incident, a motorist slid into oncoming lanes of traffic, slamming into two vehicles before hitting a snowbank. The other two drivers were treated for injuries.
In Delaware, state police were investigating the death of a woman who was struck and killed Thursday by a state Department of Transportation snowplow.
In Somers, Conn., a horse had to be euthanized after part of a barn collapsed under the weight of snow. Two other horses that got trapped were freed.
Since Dec. 14, snow has fallen eight times on the New York region -- or an average of about once every five days. Much of the Northeast is in a similar boat, resigned to repeated storms as a weather phenomenon off the coast called the North Atlantic Oscillation creates older air and drops more snow than usual.
"I just want the snow to stop. I want the sun again. I want to feel just a little bit of warmth," commuter Elliott Self said after leaving an elevated train in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
He might have to wait, though. Forecasts called for more snow in the region -- although supposedly just a few inches -- later in the week.