Northeasterners scraped and shoveled Wednesday after a snowstorm grounded flights, shuttered schools and buried roads with a surprising amount of snow, leaving biting cold in its wake. The atmosphere was particularly frosty in New York, where some residents complained that plowing was spotty and schools were open while children elsewhere in the region stayed home.
The storm stretched from Kentucky to New England but hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. As much as 14 inches of snow fell in Philadelphia, with New York City seeing almost as much, before tapering off. Temperatures were in the single digits in many places Wednesday and not expected to rise out of the teens.
Facing one of the first flashpoints of his weeks-old tenure, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the response to a storm he said caused a worse-than-expected headache when it ramped up at rush hour.
“We had a coordinated, intense, citywide response,” de Blasio said.
The mayor and city Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said the cleanup effort was equitable and robust, though complicated by traffic and the storm's timetable. Those factors made it difficult to plow and spread salt, Doherty said. At one point, the wind and snow were so blinding that police pulled traffic agents out of many intersections.
De Blasio, a Brooklynite who campaigned on closing gaps between rich and poor New Yorkers, also was asked why some Manhattan avenues, including in the wealthy Upper East Side neighborhood, still were covered in snow when a Brooklyn thoroughfare was plowed clear to the pavement. The plowing problems combined with a late-night decision to keep open the nation's largest public schools system had some parents grumbling.
“No one was treated differently,” the mayor said.
One parent, Pamela Murphy Jennings, said her two children navigated snowy sections of tony Madison and Park avenues to get to their public schools on the Upper East Side.
“Children have to walk to city bus stops and cross these streets to get here,” she said. “Cars are sliding on roads. If there was any day to close schools, this was the day.”
De Blasio said officials made the right call in anticipating that streets would be passable enough for students to get to school safely, adding that his own teenage son had gone, if grouchily.
Citywide, 100 percent of primary streets were plowed by 6 a.m. Wednesday, along with 90 percent or more of other streets, Doherty said.
Some residents were understanding. Upper East Sider Lou Riccio agreed cleanup was a problem in his neighborhood, but he didn't see it as the mayor's fault.
“It was just the problem of a bad snowstorm coming at a bad time of the day,” said Riccio, who teaches public affairs at Columbia University.
Schoolchildren had the day off elsewhere, including in Boston, Philadelphia and many parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, upstate New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. Federal workers in Washington got a two-hour delay in their work days Wednesday after a day off Tuesday because of the snow.
In downtown Jersey City, N.J., Kerline Celestin, 23, a certified nurse's aide, waited for a bus Wednesday to head home to another part of town after she was stuck at work overnight due to the storm. The temperature was in the single digits, with the wind chill below zero.
“To tell you the truth, I feel like I didn't want to be outside,” she said.
Maintenance worker William Haskins knocked on doors in downtown Annapolis, Md., to see if anyone needed sidewalks cleaned. His 10-year-old son, Travis, out of school for a snow day, came along with his own shovel and an understanding that profits would be split evenly.
“He was up waiting for me this morning,” his father said.
While Boston got only about 4 inches of snow, other parts of Massachusetts were socked with as many as 18 inches.
On Cape Cod, a blizzard warning in effect through Wednesday afternoon kept business brisk at Aubuchon Hardware in Sandwich, where salt and snow shovels were popular.
“The flow of customers is pretty steady, but everyone waits until the worst of the storm to start worrying,” manager Jeff Butland said.
About 1,400 flights were canceled Wednesday into and out of some of the nation's busiest airports, including in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, according to according to Flightaware. That was down from about 3,000 flights the day before.
The storm was a conventional one that developed off the coast and moved up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the Arctic. Unlike 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.