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Washington area largely spared from snow; travel up and down East Coast affected

By Maria Glod , Christy Goodman and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 27, 2010; 2:53 PM

The East Coast struggled to recover Monday from a massive storm that merely brushed Washington but dumped double-digit snowfalls across New England and shut down holiday travel.

Numerous passengers stranded overnight at Washington area airports sought to rebook their flights after widespread cancellations. Airports in New York and New Jersey remained closed, but the Federal Aviation Administration reported that they were expected to reopen by Monday evening.

Bus travel north from the District to Philadelphia and New York was mostly canceled. Operators planned to resume service Tuesday.

Amtrak officials restored holiday service between New York and Boston on Monday morning after the heavy snow shut down service Sunday. Spokesman Steve Kulm said some service from Washington to New York was being delayed and canceled because equipment was snowed under in New York.

The Washington region avoided the blizzard that blanketed many other areas, from nearly two feet in Brooklyn to at least eight inches in Bethany Beach. Instead, area residents saw hours of flurries result in virtually no accumulation.

Elsewhere, heavy snow and high winds forced many people to change their plans for returning home from holiday travel. Roads were impassable. Flights could not take off. Most buses and trains were canceled, and seats on others filled quickly.

Kulm said Amtrak was seeing "a heavy passenger volume" because of the airline cancellations.

Monday morning brought frigid temperatures and strong winds in the Washington area. Downed wires caused power outages for about 10,000 households and even sparked fires in Northwest Washington. No injuries were reported.

Motorists encountered the occasional dark traffic signal and debris in the roadways.

Dan Stillman of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang said expected highs are near 30.

The good news, Stillman said, is that a warming trend is expected as the week wears on, with the possibility of hitting the 50s by the New Year's weekend.

The federal government was operating on a normal schedule Monday.

Some of the hardest-hit areas were New York, New Jersey and coastal New England, where the blizzard conditions brought holiday travel to a halt for thousands of people. Hundreds of motorists had to be rescued as high winds left roads blocked by snow drifts, and some New York city subway passengers were stranded for hours overnight on stalled trains.

The airport closures in the Northeast forced the cancellation of more than 6,000 flights. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey were expected to reopen at 6 p.m. Monday, and New York's LaGuardia Airport was reopening at 4 p.m., the FAA reported.

At least six East Coast states declared emergencies, including North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine.

The National Weather Service said a "full-blown blizzard" hit southern New England and the New York City area and that blizzard warnings remained in effect Monday morning for the city, coastal New England and interior parts of northern Maine. Parts of New Jersey received 29 inches of snow, and wind gusts up to 80 mph struck Massachusetts. Southern states were hit by rare heavy snowfalls, with more than 13 inches falling on parts of North Carolina and on Norfolk, Va.

"Gales force winds combined with heavy snow are expected to continue across northeast New Jersey and southern New England into this afternoon, creating dangerous blizzard conditions," the weather service said.

Early Sunday morning, the storm hit North Carolina straight on and then spread northeast, causing slick roads and putting a damper on post-Christmas bargain-hunting. In Philadelphia, Eagles fans had only boos for the white stuff, as their Sunday-night game against the Minnesota Vikings was postponed until Tuesday.

"It's the old chestnuts roasting on the open fire, good day to be home for the holidays. But it is a terrible time to be out and traveling," said Lon Anderson of AAA-Mid Atlantic, which had predicted that about 2.2 million D.C. area residents would travel this week.

After a weekend full of tidings of a white day-after-Christmas, the storm made a curious end run around the Washington region. A few inches of accumulation were reported farther east in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties in Maryland. Maryland and Delaware beaches were walloped, with Ocean City reporting 13 1/2 inches of snow by Monday morning.

The snow was still falling in New England on Monday, with Boston expecting total accumulation of 18 inches, and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour.

Megabus stopped all service in New York, Philadelphia and Washington on Sunday, and BoltBus canceled its Monday service. Greyhound canceled several routes in the Carolinas and Virginia and service to New York City.

Major airlines canceled flights in the storm's path, the Associated Press reported Sunday afternoon. Continental Airlines canceled 250 departures from Newark, and United Airlines canceled dozens of Sunday departures from Newark, Philadelphia, New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy, Boston Logan and other airports. AirTran and Southwest Airlines also canceled flights, mostly in or out of Dulles International, Baltimore-Washington International Marshall and Newark.

Courtney Mickalonis, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said runways at Dulles and Reagan National airports were clear. But she said some airlines had canceled flights and urged passengers to check before they set off for the airport.

"It really is on a flight-by-flight basis," she said. "At least it's after the holiday. But still, nobody wants to be stuck."

The forecast for the District and its suburbs fluctuated over the past few days, as once again a storm zigzagged up the coastline with Interstate 95 serving as a rough boundary between the return of Snowmageddon and a complete bust. This time, the perennial guessing game kept forecasters, shoppers and children eager for a day of sledding expecting a big blast but getting the occasional stray flake.

But with memories of February's crippling snowstorms still fresh, many people took a better-safe-than-sorry attitude.

Trucks brimming with road salt were deployed around the area. District officials asked neighbors to organize shoveling teams to make work lighter. In Alexandria, among the localities where roads were pre-treated in anticipation of snow, officials reminded residents of the snow emergency hotline number on the city's Web page.

At a Giant supermarket in Upper Marlboro, Kristi DeCaris made sure she was well prepared, too. For her, that meant stocking up on snacks for the Redskins game and a cozy night inside.

"We're going to make it for the second half," DeCaris said as she and her cousin wheeled down the aisles, filling their cart with hot dogs, ground beef, chips, dip and fruit.

The snow almost kept Monica Imonide of Greenbelt at home, but she has had her eye on cashmere sweaters, and the Macy's after-Christmas sale lured her to Bowie Town Center.

"I've been in worse conditions," she said. "I'm a nurse. When it rains or snows this high" - and she raised her gloved hand about three feet off the ground. "This is nothing."

The storm brought more anxiety for people who couldn't hunker down.

Kulya Nzogu, 40, who visited friends in the District, stood on a downtown street corner just after noon waiting to catch a bus to Union Station, where he was scheduled to take Greyhound to New York and then a train to Connecticut.

Nzogu said he'd been watching forecasts all morning but had braced himself for the possibility that his trip would be stalled. "It's Mother Nature," he said. "There's nothing to do about it."

As snow started to stick in the parking lot outside the Lowe's store in Waldorf, Devin King, 38, of Bowie, was inside checking out the feel of two different shovels - one ergonomic and one standard. His broke last year.

"I'm trying to figure out which one will save me from the most wear and tear because I'm getting up there in age," he said. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

King said he wasn't too worried about this storm, but "you never know for next time. I remember last year they ran out, so I had to hire people. I said, 'Let me get a good shovel this time.' "

Staff writer William Branigin contributed to this report.

glodm@washpost.com goodmanc@washpost.com wilgorend@washpost.com

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