After Blizzard, Snowed-In East Coast Prepares to Dig Out

NEW YORK (AP) -
Pedestrians walk along the center of Central Park West in New York Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, as a large winter storm enveloped the East Coast. Earlier in the afternoon, all non emergency traffic was banned from New York City streets. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Pedestrians walk along the center of Central Park West in New York, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Millions of Americans were preparing to dig themselves out Sunday after a mammoth blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-setting snowfall brought much of the East Coast to an icy standstill.

Travel bans barring nonemergency vehicles from the roads of New York City and Baltimore were expected to be lifted by early morning, and mass transit systems that had been partially suspended during the storm were scheduled to run again.

The massive snowstorm brought both the nation’s capital and its largest city to a stop, dumping as much as 3 feet of snow and stranding tens of thousands of travelers. At least 18 deaths were blamed on the weather, resulting from car crashes, shoveling snow and hypothermia.

The snow dropped 26.8 inches in Central Park, the second-most recorded snowfall since 1869. The snowfall narrowly missed tying the previous record of 26.9 inches set in February 2006. The snow finally stopped falling in New York City around 10 p.m. on Motzoei Shabbos, though authorities insisted people stay indoors and off the streets as crews plowed deserted roads and police set up checkpoints to catch violators.

As recently as Friday night, New York officials had expected the storm to top out at 18 inches. The scenario was much the opposite of what unfolded a year ago, when a storm carrying predictions for 18 to 24 inches of snow prompted officials to shut down the subway system completely, but far less than a foot ultimately fell.

The storm dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England, with areas of Washington surpassing 30 inches. The heaviest unofficial report was in a rural area of West Virginia, not far from Harpers Ferry, with 40 inches.

“This is kind of a top-10 snowstorm,” said weather service winter storm expert Paul Kocin, who co-wrote a two-volume textbook on blizzards.

In Washington, monuments that would typically be busy with tourists stood vacant. All mass transit in the capital was to be shut down through Sunday.

The usually bustling New York City looked more like a ghost town. The normally busy streets around Rockefeller Center, Penn Station and other landmarks were mostly empty. Those who did venture out walked down the middle of snow-covered streets to avoid even deeper drifts on the sidewalks.

Throughout the region, drivers skidded off snowy, icy roads in accidents that killed several people Friday and Saturday. Those killed included a 4-year-old boy in North Carolina; a Kentucky transportation worker who was plowing highways; and a woman whose car plunged down a 300-foot embankment in Tennessee. Three people died while shoveling snow in Queens and Staten Island.

An Ohio teenager sledding behind an all-terrain vehicle was hit by a truck and killed, and two people died of hypothermia in southwest Virginia. In North Carolina, a man whose car had veered off an ice-covered road was arrested on charges of killing a motorist who stopped to help.

In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drivers were marooned for hours on snow-choked highways.

The snow was whipped into a maelstrom by winds that reached 75 mph at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service said. From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30 mph and gusted to around 50 mph. And if that weren’t enough, the storm also had bursts of thunder and lightning.

Stranded travelers included Defense Secretary Ash Carter, whose high-tech aircraft, the Doomsday Plane, couldn’t land at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after returning from Europe. Carter was rerouted to Tampa, Florida.