Raging blizzard wallops much of the mid-Atlantic

Wednesday, February 10, 2010; 4:55 PM

A raging blizzard walloped much of the mid-Atlantic Wednesday, paralyzing traffic, shuttering schools and dropping a record-breaking amount of snow in the D.C. region.

Airports up and down the East Coast were closed, and thousands of flights were canceled. The federal government shut down operations for the third day in a row as people were still trying to dig out from last weekend's massive snowfall.

The storm that began Tuesday evening stretched from North Carolina to New York. By mid-afternoon, enough snow had fallen to break records for the snowiest winter in D.C.'s history.

Tuesday began with light snow, but as the hours wore on blizzard conditions set in. The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail deliveries. At one point Wednesday, visibility was so poor in Maryland and the District that officials pulled snowplows from the road. Utility crews trying to restore power to darkened households were told to take shelter inside their trucks until the storm abated. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell shut down several interstate highways as the snow began to pile up throughout the region. Even New York, which escaped much of last weekend's storm, was expected to get 12 to 15 inches by the end of the day. Photographs snapped at midday showed a thick blanket of white covering the World Trade Center site. The city's schools, courts and even the United Nations shut down for the day.

Forecasters said snow totals of eight to 12 inches were likely from Northern Virginia into southern New England. But in Boston, residents who were primed for a major storm seemed mildly annoyed that only a few flakes had dropped by the afternoon.

But the areas that were hit got hit hard. In some instances, so much snow had fallen that crews struggled to find places to put it. In Baltimore, crews finally resorted to dumping snow into the Inner Harbor.

Dulles International, Reagan National and BWI airports shut down operations by 8 a.m. Wednesday. The New York area's three major airports continued to operate, but few flights were going anywhere, an airport spokesman said.

Road conditions were treacherous -- even for those with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

"It's staggering to hear how many SUVs are flipping over," said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. "Today's not the day to venture out. With 40 to 50 mile-per-hour winds blowing old snow and new, it can be impossible to see where the lanes are."

It took nearly an hour for a pair of National Guard troops driving a Humvee to travel less than nine miles.

"I'll take sand and mud any day to this," said Sgt. James Young said as he guided the Humvee through barely plowed city streets Wednesday, going 15 mph as fierce winds whipped everything white.

The D.C. National Guard had been assisting police and the fire department since the first snowfall Friday. About 118 people with 23 vehicles transported officers from the suburbs to the District.

Streets throughout the region were largely deserted as residents heeded official warning to stay inside. But in some areas, a few hardy souls ventured out. In one D.C. neighborhood, 71-year-old Lee Schoenecker, a retired urban planner, was determined to keep his walk clear.

"Just shoveling to keep up with it," he said as he paused, his eyeglasses covered with snow. "Shovel early. Shovel a lot."

Even those used to pooh-poohing D.C. residents as wimps conceded this was no ordinary storm.

"I've lived here for 30 years," Schoenecker said. "I grew up in southern Wisconsin. This snow in accumulation, December, last couple days is as bad as I've ever seen in southern Wisconsin. Absolutely. And that includes some pretty big snows."

-- Staff and wire reports

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