Northeasterners scraped and shovelled 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 the new mayor acknowledged flaws in the cleanup and some residents complained that schools remained 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, and parts of Massachusetts were socked with as many as 18 inches. Temperatures were in the single digits or the teens in many places Wednesday.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, facing one of the first flashpoints of his weeks-old tenure, initially defended what he called a "co-ordinated, intense, citywide response" to a storm he said caused a worse-than-expected headache when it ramped up at rush hour. And de Blasio, who campaigned on closing gaps between rich and poor city residents, at first rebuffed complaints that the effort had lagged on Manhattan's posh Upper East Side, saying "no one was treated differently."
But he backtracked Wednesday evening, saying he'd determined "more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side."
Thirty more vehicles and nearly 40 more sanitation workers were sent to the area to finish the cleanup, de Blasio said in a statement that noted he still felt the citywide response, overall, "was well-executed."
In a city where snow removal has proven a political hot potato, the flap was almost a mirror image of complaints about how de Blasio's predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, handled a 2010 blizzard. Bloomberg, who lives on the Upper East Side, faced criticism that outer boroughs had gotten short shift from plows. Brooklyn-dwelling de Blasio, then the city's public advocate, was among the critics.
This time, de Blasio found himself being asked why some Upper East Side avenues still were covered in snow when a Brooklyn thoroughfare was plowed clear to the pavement.
Pamela Murphy Jennings' two children navigated snowy sections of tony Madison and Park avenues to get to their public schools on the Upper East Side, she said in an interview.
"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. But the Department of Education said Wednesday's attendance rate was only 47.1 per cent — far below the average daily attendance rate of about 90 per cent for the 1.1 million students who make up the nation's largest public school system.
Traffic and the storm's timetable complicated the cleanup, he and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said. The storm arrived earlier than expected Tuesday and intensified right around the evening rush, making it difficult to plow and spread salt, Doherty said.
Citywide, 100 per cent of primary streets were plowed by 6 a.m. Wednesday, along with 90 per cent or more of other streets, Doherty said.
Some residents were understanding. Upper East Sider Lou Riccio agreed cleanup was a problem in his neighbourhood, 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.
Elsewhere, the storm was blamed for at least one death — a driver was ejected from a car that fishtailed into the path of a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered Maryland road — and might have claimed more lives. Authorities were investigating three suspected weather-related deaths in Pennsylvania's Delaware County, outside Philadelphia; a preliminary investigation showed weather conditions played a role in a two-vehicle crash that killed two people in Prince George's County, Md.; and police said the storm may have factored in a deadly tractor-trailer wreck in Frederick County, Va.
Schools were closed in Boston, Philadelphia and many other places on the Eastern Seaboard. 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., certified nurse's aide Kerline Celestin waited for a bus Wednesday to head home after being stuck at work overnight due to the storm. The temperature was in the single digits, with the wind chill below zero.
"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.
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 cancelled 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.
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.