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Blizzards break mid-Atlantic records

Fun at first, snow pummels weary capital

As another winter storm hit the nation’s capital yesterday, people made their way through downtown streets in whiteout conditions. Reagan National Airport in Washington had nearly 10 inches by 2 p.m., and Baltimore got nearly a foot. As another winter storm hit the nation’s capital yesterday, people made their way through downtown streets in whiteout conditions. Reagan National Airport in Washington had nearly 10 inches by 2 p.m., and Baltimore got nearly a foot. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
By Nafeesa Syeed
Associated Press / February 11, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Worst winter ever? The second blizzard in less than a week buried the most populous stretch of the East Coast under nearly a foot of snow yesterday, breaking records for the snowiest winter and demoralizing millions of people still trying to dig out from the previous storm.

Conditions in the nation’s capital were so bad that even plows were advised to get off the roads, and forecasters were eyeing a third storm that could be brewing for next week.

For many families, the first storm was a fun weekend diversion. People even went skiing past Washington’s monuments. But yesterday’s blizzard quickly became a serious safety concern. Pennsylvania’s governor shut down some highways and warned that people who drove were risking their lives.

“I’ve seen enough,’’ said Bill Daly, 57, as gusts of wind and snow lashed his face in Arlington, Va., where streets were nearly empty just a few days after people had been playing in the snow.

“It’s scary and beautiful at the same time. I wanted to shovel but thought if I had a heart attack it could be a while before anybody found me in this kind of weather.’’

Old-timers talk about a storm that blew through Washington in 1922, collapsing the roof on the Knickerbocker theater and killing more than 90 people. Their great-great-grandchildren will be able to describe the back-to-back blizzards of 2010, which were not nearly as deadly but set records for the snowiest winters ever in Washington and Baltimore.

Up to 16 inches fell in parts of western Maryland. Reagan National Airport outside Washington had nearly 10 inches by 2 p.m., and Baltimore got nearly a foot. That was on top of totals up to 3 feet in some places from the weekend storm. “I have never in my lifetime seen or heard anything quite like this,’’ said D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin, who was born and raised in the District.

The previous records for snowiest winters were 62.5 inches in Baltimore in 1995-96, 54.4 inches in Washington in 1898-99, and 65.5 inches in Philadelphia in 1995-96. As of yesterday afternoon, Baltimore had 72.3 inches, Reagan National Airport had 54.9, and Philadelphia had 70.3.

Heavy snow also fell in New York and New Jersey. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights, and New York City’s 1.1 million schoolchildren enjoyed only their third snow day in six years. The Washington area’s two airports had no flights coming or going yesterday.

The streets of downtown Philadelphia, which was close to setting its own snow record, were nearly vacant as people heeded the mayor’s advice to stay home.

Entrance ramps to closed highways were blockaded, and the Pennsylvania National Guard had Humvees stocked with food and blankets ready to help anyone who got stuck. Earlier in the day, about 25 vehicles were involved in two separate pileups on Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania. One man was killed and 18 people were injured.

“For your safety, do not drive,’’ Governor Ed Rendell said. “You will risk your life and, potentially, the lives of others if you get stuck on highways or any road.’’

Two people were killed when their snowmobile struck a vehicle at an intersection in Lancaster, Pa.

In Virginia, where some areas had snow totals exceeding 30 inches from the two storms, winds were howling at 50 miles per hour and temperatures were plunging. Governor Bob McDonnell urged people to stay indoors.

More than 100,000 utility customers in Pennsylvania were without power. Some never got it back after the last storm.

In Washington, officials announced that federal agencies would stay closed for a fourth straight day. The longest weather-related government shutdown was in 1996, a week.