The second of back-to-back blizzards that smothered the East Coast and eclipsed seasonal snowfall records with more than a month of winter remaining had tapered off by Thursday, although governments and schools remained closed to contend with the aftermath.
In Washington, D.C., the federal government planned to be closed for a fourth straight day, while city agencies and schools in the hardest-hit regions also scored snow days. The nation’s capital joined Philadelphia and Baltimore in logging their snowiest winters in history.
“It seemed extreme, what they were predicting,” said custodial worker Robert Valasquez, of South Philadelphia, as he walked to a downtown subway station on Wednesday afternoon for a ride home from his job. “How am I going to get to work tomorrow? I don’t even know if it will be possible.”
Road crews worked to clear Interstate 76 and I-676 in Philadelphia, which closed Wednesday to leave the city of 1.5 million residents with only one usable major artery. Elsewhere, emergency officials in eastern Pennsylvania reported more than 200 vehicles, mostly trucks, stranded for half of Wednesday along I-78 as snow was falling at about 2 inches an hour. Berks County Emergency Services Director Theodore Cole said gasoline, food and water were delivered to the stranded drivers before plows could clear paths for them by midnight, but the roadway remained closed.
In northeast Maryland, staffers at the Harford County Emergency Operations Center fielded several calls per minute from residents struggling to meet the financial demands of a second snowstorm just days after the first. One woman called to say she couldn’t afford to stay at her motel another night and was about to be evicted. Homeless shelters were full, forcing the county to pay for motel rooms for some people.
“We really can’t have people pushed out into the snow,” said Scott Gibson, the county’s director of human resources. “The motels are our second line of defense.”
There was plenty of work to be done before New Jersey could return to normal after the latest blizzard. Electric crews were working to restore power to 80,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity, but the NJ Transit agency said it planned to resume bus routes Thursday morning and open nearly all train stations so residents could try to get to work.
In neighboring New York, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the city’s 1.1 million public school students only their third snow day in six years. Bloomberg said the city was working overtime to clear streets and plow major thoroughfares in time for Thursday’s morning rush hour.
Some New Yorkers and tourists took advantage of theater tickets discounted to fill empty seats. “Wicked” had a $61.25 “snow-day” special. There were $31.50 tickets at “Mamma Mia!” “Hair” trumpeted $40 tickets for students with valid ID. Good seats at those shows usually sell for $100 or more.
George and Natividad Sanchez trudged over slushy sidewalks in boots, parkas and scarves to take their 2-year-old daughter to see “Sesame Street Live: When Elmo Grows Up.”
“I didn’t want to disappoint her,” George Sanchez said as the family arrived for the show at a theater in Madison Square Garden.
For many families, the first storm was a fun weekend diversion. People even went skiing past Washington’s monuments. But Wednesday’s blizzard quickly became a serious safety concern. The Pennsylvania governor shut down some highways, including eventually I-78, and warned that people who drove were risking their lives.
“Increasing winds are causing whiteout conditions in many areas of the state,” Gov. Ed Rendell said early Thursday, after reopening three highways.
As of Wednesday, Baltimore had 72.3 inches so far this winter, the Washington area had 54.9 inches and Philadelphia had 70.3 inches. The previous records for snowiest winters were 62.5 inches in Baltimore in 1995-96; 54.4 inches in Washington in 1898-99; and 65.5 inches in Philadelphia in 1995-96.
The streets of downtown Philadelphia were nearly vacant as people heeded the mayor’s advice to stay home.
Entrance ramps to closed highways were blockaded, and the Pennsylvania National Guard had Humvees stocked with food and blankets ready to help anyone who got stuck. Earlier in the day, about 25 vehicles were involved in two pileups on snowy Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania. One man was killed, and 18 people were injured.
“For your safety, do not drive,” Rendell said. “You will risk your life and, potentially, the lives of others if you get stuck on highways or any road.”
Two other people were killed when their snowmobile struck a moving vehicle at an intersection in Lancaster, Pa. Michigan authorities said the storm contributed to at least four traffic deaths there.
In Virginia, where some areas had snow totals exceeding 30 inches from the two storms, winds were howling at 50 mph and temperatures were plunging. Gov. Bob McDonnell urged people to stay indoors.