New England bore the brunt of a savage blizzard that packed knee-high snowfall and hurricane-force winds while New York, spared the storm’s full fury, questioned whether forecasts were overblown.
The storm that struck Boston and surrounding New England on Tuesday left about 4.5 million people grappling with as much as three feet of snow and coastal flooding.
Snow was forecast to keep falling into early Wednesday in eastern New England, possibly setting a record snowfall in Boston. At Logan International Airport, 59.2 centimeters (23.3 inches) of snow was on the ground early evening, swept higher in parts by strong winds.
"There are drifts now of four, five and six feet in some places," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said. "This is clearly a very big storm for most of Massachusetts."
Some signs of normalcy emerged Wednesday: Flights were to resume at dawn at Logan International Airport, among the nation's busiest air hubs, and Boston's public transit and Amtrak trains to New York and Washington were set to roll again, although delays were predicted.
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While a statewide travel ban was lifted at midnight, Massachusetts residents were urged to stay off the roads if possible as clean up began.
Bitter cold threatened to complicate efforts to clear clogged streets and restore power to more than 15,000 customers, including the entire island of Nantucket. Crews working to restore electricity were at times getting stuck on roads throughout the day, Nantucket Island Police Chief William Pittman said.
Lacking electricity and heat at home, more than 100 people flocked to a shelter at a high school and others simply warmed themselves in their running cars, Pittman said.
"We are going to have another tough night ahead of us," Pittman said, citing fresh snowfall and blustery conditions Wednesday as well as downed trees and power lines, and icy water over roadways. "After midnight, things are going to start improving."
Among the damage brought by the storm: high tides breached a seawall in Marshfield, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Boston, damaging 11 homes, several of which were condemned, police said. Police urged residents to evacuate.
Missed severe weather
Further south, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey had been warned they could get 1 to 2 feet of snow, but they escaped the worst of the storm. New York City received just under 10 inches and Philadelphia a mere inch or so. New Jersey got up to 10 inches.
National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini said his agency should have done a better job of communicating the uncertainty in its forecast. But he also said the storm may in fact prove to be one of the biggest ever in some parts of Massachusetts.
National Weather Service forecaster Gary Szatkowski of Mount Holly, New Jersey, tweeted an apology: “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his statewide ban on travel as “absolutely the right decision to make,” given the dire forecast.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will look at whether storm procedures could be improved but added: “Would you rather be ahead of the action or behind? Would you rather be prepared or unprepared? Would you rather be safe or unsafe? … To me it was a no-brainer: we had to take precautions to keep people safe.”
New Yorkers were divided on whether Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio had over-reacted ahead of the storm. Cuomo had ordered a total travel ban on all roads in the southern part of the state, while the subway system closed for the first time in history due to snow.
Before the heavy snows even reached New York, officials closed schools, shut down bridges and tunnels, canceled commuter rail service and, for the first time ever in a snowstorm, closed the city's sprawling subway system at 11 p.m. Monday. A travel ban was put in place and drivers caught out on the roads were subject to arrest.
Chris Jones, a clerk at Whole Foods in Manhattan, said he watched in amazement as customers stocked up on hundreds of dollars’ worth of food after the mayor warned of major snow accumulation.
"He overly exaggerated," the 22-year-old Jones said. "Everyone said it would be dozens of inches of snow and as you can see, there's nothing like that. All of that craze for nothing."
'Better to be safe'
Others were more forgiving.
"They went by what they knew. It’s better to be safe than to underestimate it and people get stuck or hurt,” said Brent Bounds, 46, a New York City psychologist sledding with his two young sons.
Cuomo defended the decisions, saying he favored "a lean toward safety."
As he cleared his property with a snowblower in Milford, Connecticut, Mike Spigarolo, 56, said, “It wasn't nearly as bad as predicted, but with the wind and snow hitting your face it's still no picnic.”
The heaviest snowfall was recorded outside Boston, with 91.4 centimeters (36 inches) in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, and 88.9 centimeters (35 inches) reported in Auburn, according to the National Weather Service.
Two deaths, both on Long Island, were tied to the storm by police: a 17-year-old who crashed into a light pole while snow-tubing down a street and an 83-year-old man with dementia who was found dead in his backyard.
More than 4,700 U.S. flights were canceled on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com, with more than 80 percent of scheduled flights at airports in New York, Philadelphia and Boston affected.
Material for this report came from Reuters and AP.