February 12, 2006

Northeast US hammered by record blizzard

By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - The biggest snowstorm of the season
belted northeastern United States on Sunday, sinking New York
City into its deepest snow on record, cutting power to
thousands of homes, closing airports but bringing joy to ski

"Make no mistake about it, this is a very dangerous, big
storm," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news

At least 26.9 inches of snow fell in New York's Central
Park, topping a powerful blizzard on December 26, 1947, that
killed 77 people, according to the National Weather Service and
city archives.

There were few fatalities by late Sunday as people heeded
storm warnings and stayed inside. Authorities said one man died
when his truck slid off a Virginia highway and another was
killed in a fire in Baltimore when snow hampered rescue teams.

Whiteout conditions delayed flights and trains and shut
airports in New York and New Jersey, the Federal Aviation
Administration and the Amtrak rail service said, as the storm
churned up the northeast coast from Virginia to Maine.

Flakes of snow fell as far south as Tennessee.

"The snow is beautiful," said Gary Aichholz, manager of
Magic Mountain, a ski resort in Londonderry, Vermont, which
like other ski mountains across New England had suffered from
unseasonably warm weather and scarce snowfall in January.

"I think this will get people back in the spirit of winter
and skiing," he said.

Some 40,000 homes were without power in Washington and
parts of Maryland and another 85,000 lost power in the
Baltimore area, according to utility groups. Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island reported few outages.

Winds gusted at speeds of 55 mph (89 kph) in the
Massachusetts' resort region of Cape Cod, whipping up 20-ft
(6-meter) seas, the National Weather Service said.


"It is quite a storm," said Brian Ciemnecki, a
meteorologist at the National Weather Service's New York
bureau, whose records date back to 1869. "In some areas we're
seeing snow fall at a rate of 10 inches in two hours."

New York City's snow-deprived residents descended on the
city's parks by the thousands, making good use of sleds,
snowboards, improvised saucers and even snowshoes.

Some New Yorkers like 21-year-old Emily Wasserman of
Brooklyn traversed the city in cross-country skis, while
7-year-old Julian Israel skidded around on a sled he got for
Christmas but hadn't been able to use until Sunday.

"That sled is really great," he gushed.

Major roads and highways were mostly open and passable but
still covered with snow. "The driving conditions are very
difficult out there. There are a lot of spin-outs, minor
crashes," said Tom Ryan of the Massachusetts State Police.

Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri declared a state of
emergency to free roads for emergency vehicles as residents
shoveled out cars and cleared paths from their homes.

"We had such a warm January, above normal," said T.J.
Saotome, a 40-year-old from Bristol, Rhode Island, "but you
know what? I've lived in New England long enough to know there
would be a payback."

Several airports closed including New York's John F.
Kennedy and LaGuardia, which shut for the first time in five

(Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York and
Richard C. Lewis in Rhode Island)