PHILADELPHIA — A swirling storm with a potential for more than a foot of snow clobbered the mid-Atlantic and the urban Northeast on Tuesday, grounding thousands of flights, closing government offices in the nation’s capital and giving students another day off from school.
The storm stretched 1,000 miles between Kentucky and Massachusetts but was expected to hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston, creating a perilous commute for tens of millions of motorists.
In Campbelltown, Pa., Ralph Duquette kept close tabs on the weather because his wife needed to go to Washington’s Dulles Airport for a flight to London. But those plans were thrown into doubt when an 18-wheeler went into a ditch, hindering her route to the airport.
She was trying instead to get a flight out of Newark, N.J., but Duquette added: “Don’t think she’s going to get there.”
Forecasters said the storm could bring 10 to 14 inches of snow to Philadelphia and southern New England and up to a foot in New York City, to be followed by extreme cold as arctic air from Canada streams in. Washington, D.C., was expecting 4 to 8 inches snow.
This one was a conventional storm that developed off the coast and moved its way up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the arctic. Unlike the big snowstorm and the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it was not caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole.
Pennsylvania’s Transportation Department said it had already blown through more than half of its $189 million winter weather budget.
“Lots of nuisance storms this season have meant that PennDOT crews have been plowing and treating roads more frequently this winter,” spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.
More than 2,800 flights Tuesday were canceled, with airports from Washington to Boston affected. An additional 700 flights for Wednesday were already called off. Amtrak planned to cut back train service in the afternoon.
The storm put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s inauguration, forcing the cancellation of an evening party on Ellis Island.
Standing in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park with snow swirling around her, visitor Jenn Byrne of Portland, Ore., said the nasty weather put a crimp in her plans to do a “giant walking tour” of the city. But she vowed to soldier on, taking cabs instead of trudging. She wasn’t wearing snow boots.
“I’ll keep going. Just the means of transportation will change a bit,” Byrne said.
Marie Mestekova, a tourist visiting the City of Brotherly Love from Prague, said it has been strangely snow-free this winter in the Czech Republic, “so, actually, I think all my friends will be really jealous of me just now.”
Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky stayed closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, or sent students home early. Some parents kept their kids home all day, unwilling to put them on slippery roads for a few hours of school.
The push to get home early was evident on trains run by SEPTA, the Philadelphia area’s transit agency, with many of them packed.
With federal workers given the day off, Tom Ripley, who works at a Washington hardware store, said his morning commute was cut in half because “there was almost no one on the road.” He said the store was jammed Monday as customers stocked up on ice melt and shovels.
“Nobody prepares because we never get any snow, so the slightest chance of it, everybody freaks out,” Ripley said.