The massive snowstorm that paralyzed Washington today struck hardest in North Carolina--dumping a record 20 inches on Raleigh--only days after an ice storm had knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers in the state.
But the fast-developing storm hit almost the entire eastern seaboard, leaving cities, towns, farms and mountains from Georgia to Massachusetts blanketed with the heaviest snowfall since a blizzard four years ago.
The storm that broke out late Monday packed high winds, swirling snow and freezing rain. Airports and schools as well as state and local governments up and down the East Coast were shut down.
The storm system--shaped almost like a hurricane, with bands of precipitation fanning out from a center--was expected to continue dropping snow and freezing rain throughout the region into the night and early morning, when ice would become a major threat to the morning rush hour.
The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina topped the list of places most severely affected, but much of the state was reeling. Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. declared a state of emergency. National Guard troops were deployed to set up generators at hospitals and help with emergency services. It was the state's fourth winter storm in a week. The utilities barely had recovered from the worst of a weekend storm that left hundreds of thousands without power. Tonight nearly 170,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina and 50,000 in South Carolina were reportedly without electricity.
If such heavy winter weather is rare for Raleigh-Durham, it is virtually unheard of in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where five inches of snow fell on a resort better known for white sand traps on its many golf courses than white snow on the beach.
"At the moment, I'm looking at a blizzard," said North Carolina highway patrol spokesman Robert Carver. "Looking out at the cars, the snow is up to the wheel wells, wind blowing snow around. This is the kind of thing you just don't see in North Carolina."
Throughout the East, airports were shut down or hit with massive delays and canceled flights. New York's La Guardia Airport, which had five inches of snow, closed at 6 a.m. and remained shut down for snow removal until 1:30 p.m. But even open, its traffic was just a trickle. Late this afternoon, it was expecting only three inbound and two outbound flights for the rest of the day, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages New York area airports. The situation was similar at John F. Kennedy and Newark international airports: They remained open through the day, but with most flights canceled.
The disruption to eastern air travel rippled westward. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport--the nation's biggest air hub--was receiving some international flights that were unable to land back east. Chicago's clear weather and sunny skies belied the disruptions at O'Hare, where thousands of passengers were stranded because of canceled flights.
"Everything, basically, is canceled to the East Coast from O'Hare and Midway airports," Monique Bond, Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman, said of the city's two main airports. "No arrivals or departures."
Forty miles to the east of Chicago, a band of localized "lake effect" snow squalls hit northwestern Indiana along Lake Michigan's southern shore, dumping up to eight inches in some areas, with 15 inches expected overnight.
In Pennsylvania, where more than 10 inches fell at King of Prussia outside Philadelphia, emergency preparedness officials were on duty all day--as they were up and down the East Coast--to monitor emergencies such as power outages and road conditions. Marko Bourne, press secretary for the state Emergency Management Agency in Harrisburg, said the storm pummeled the state regularly all day.
High winds, plus freezing rain and snow already on the ground, conspired to make conditions dicey for anyone doing business out doors, such as Sheila and Prakash Sharma, who run a newspaper kiosk in midtown Manhattan.
"A hard life," Sheila Sharma said sweetly from behind the plastic sheeting that was wrapped protectively around the wooden kiosk. She was barely visible within its confines, where wind and rain and snow were whipping up a storm even inside the kiosk. The couple had a portable heater running, down on the ground by their feet. But it was no use. The same for the four layers of clothes they were wearing.
"The weather is very bad," said Prakash Sharma, looking desperate in the face of a cutting wind.
"It's cold inside," Sheila Sharma said. "Inside, it's all snow."
Of course, there were those for whom today's storm was nothing to get in a huff about. One such person was John Wiltse, director of Connecticut's office of emergency management in Hartford, where up to seven inches of snow were recorded. Asked about power outages, airport closures, traffic problems and the like, Wiltse said all was well. He added: "You're speaking to Connecticut--hearty New Englanders."
Which is a good thing, because things could get worse before they better. As Bourne from Pennsylvania put it, "The storm is really in the driver's seat."
Staff writer William Claiborne in Chicago and special correspondent Catharine Skipp in Miami contributed to this report.
CAPTION: A well-clad surfer makes his way out toward the sea at Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Heavy snow covered the beach, but high winds created good waves.