Winter storm brings much of Northeast to a halt

NEW YORK — A winter storm dumped a foot or more of snow, grounded flights and closed schools across much of the Northeast — but not in New York City, where Wednesday was a regular school day for 1.1 million students.

Allison Pennell said not having a snow day was “a hard pill to swallow” for her two children, a fifth-grader and a 10th-grader. “They were very cranky and bitter, but they had to suck it up,” she said.

The storm stretched from Kentucky to New England but hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. Snow began falling at midmorning Tuesday in Philadelphia and dumped as much as 14 inches by Wednesday, with New York City seeing almost as much, before tapering off.

The snowstorm was the second for New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who praised the job sanitation workers were doing to clear the streets.

“I think the city handled it very well,” de Blasio said as he shoveled snow at his Brooklyn home Wednesday morning.

De Blasio said some streets couldn’t be plowed because cars were in the way but added, “the minute they had the streets clear — in other words, there was not traffic in the way — sanitation did a remarkable job.”

While Boston got only about 4 inches of snow, other parts of Massachusetts were socked with as many as 18 inches.

Ram Vyas, owner of Towers Liquor Mart in Weymouth, was shoveling his walkway Wednesday morning and getting ready for another busy day after the storm dropped about 16 inches of snow on the town, located about 15 miles south of Boston.

“It was very busy before the storm and now it will be busy after the storm,” he said. “A lot of people have the day off from work, so they will be coming in to buy more alcohol, then watch TV, be with their families.”

On Cape Cod, a blizzard warning in effect through Wednesday afternoon kept business brisk at Aubuchon Hardware in Sandwich, where salt and snow shovels were popular. “The flow of customers is pretty steady, but everyone waits until the worst of the storm to start worrying,” manager Jeff Butland said.

Boston and Philadelphia officials ordered schools closed Wednesday. Schools were also closed in Rhode Island, Connecticut, upstate New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. Federal workers in Washington who got a snow day Tuesday were getting a two-hour delay on Wednesday.

About 1,400 flights were canceled Wednesday into and out of some of the nation’s busiest airports, including in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, according to according to flight-tracking site flightaware.com. That was down from about 3,000 flights the day before.

Melody Martinez, 23, who was heading home to Miami after visiting her mother in New York, went to LaGuardia Airport, hoping to catch her 9:10 a.m. flight Wednesday, which was canceled. She initially was told she couldn’t get another flight until Thursday.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no!”’ said Martinez. “I have to go back to work tomorrow.”

Martinez, who works in retail and attends Florida International University, eventually lucked out.

“Thank God I was able to get on a flight today,” she said. She’d have to hang around the airport until 3 p.m., but she was still “very relieved.”

Amtrak told passengers on its busiest line, the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, to expect fewer trains. Lines serving Harrisburg, Pa., and Albany, N.Y., also were slowed.

The storm was a conventional one 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.

Nonetheless, bone-chilling temperatures settled in across the Northeast on Wednesday. Temperatures were in the single digits in many places and not expected to rise out of the teens.

The newest wave of cold air helped to deplete fuel supplies and send prices for propane and natural gas to record highs. Higher natural gas prices also are leading to sharply higher wholesale electricity prices as power utilities snap up gas at almost any price to run power plants to meet higher-than-normal winter demand.

Propane users will get pinched the most. Those who find themselves suddenly needing to fill their tanks could be paying $100 to $200 more per fill-up than a month ago. Homeowners who use natural gas and electricity will see higher heating bills because they’ll use more fuel. But prices won’t rise dramatically because utilities buy only a small portion of the fuel at the elevated prices.

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