Archive for Monday, February 17, 2003

Blizzard may rank among top 5

February 17, 2003

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The East's worst storm of the season dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on parts of the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic states Sunday, shutting down airports, snarling highways and canceling church services and major sporting events.

Where snow wasn't piling up, floods and mudslides wreaked havoc; even the Daytona 500 was cut short by heavy rain in Florida.

At least six deaths had been blamed on the weather since snow first burst across the Plains on Friday and Saturday. Governors in Kentucky, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware declared a state of emergency, closing roads and in some cases mobilizing the National Guard to help with the mess.

Blizzard warnings were issued Sunday night in a handful of eastern states.

"This is looking like the largest storm this year, and it may be one of the top five in our recorded history," said Lora Rakowski of Maryland's Highway Administration. "You name a place, they've got snow -- and a lot of it."

The snow was part of a huge system that also produced thunderstorms in the South, including an early morning tornado that damaged a house in northern Florida.

In Tennessee, where more than 7 inches of rain fell earlier, a mudslide early Sunday destroyed an apartment building outside Knoxville, chasing out several dozen tenants. One man was hospitalized in serious condition with broken bones but was improving, the Knox County sheriff's office said.

At least 50,000 customers were without power in West Virginia, where 20 inches of snow fell in the north, floods blocked roads in the south and ice caused problems elsewhere. Flights at Charleston's Yeager Airport were canceled. Williamson closed its flood wall as the Tug Fork River rose toward a crest of up to 3 feet above flood stage. Winds up to 30 mph were expected to cause blowing and drifting snow in the mountains, where as much as 3 feet of snow was predicted.

Snow fell Sunday from Missouri to New Jersey, and flakes piled up at a rate of up to 4 inches an hour in parts of Maryland, where Gov. Robert Ehrlich banned most civilian traffic from state highways.

Forecasts ranged from a foot of snow by late Monday in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to 20 inches in New Jersey and 2 feet in Maryland and northern Virginia.

Greg Hannigan of Hagerstown, Md., trekked through the snow to church Sunday and found he was the only one there. "When Catholics don't show up for church, you know it's a bad storm," he said.

Workers clear snow in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.
The most extreme winter weather in recent years hit the nation's
capital Sunday.

Workers clear snow in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. The most extreme winter weather in recent years hit the nation's capital Sunday.

College basketball games were postponed because of by the storm, including a showdown between defending national champion Maryland and Wake Forest, and horse races were canceled.

The Washington area's Baltimore-Washington International and Reagan National airports both closed until further notice; BWI had a record 13 inches of snow by evening with more to come, National Weather Service Meteorologist Steve Zubrick said.

"If these accumulations actually occur, this storm would rank in the top five of all storms in snowfall recorded in the last century," Zubrick said.

Dulles International Airport had just one runway open during the afternoon. About three-quarters of flights were canceled at Philadelphia International Airport, where about 15 inches of snow fell. Amtrak suspended service between Washington and Richmond, Va., said spokesman Dan Stessel.

Monuments and museums in Washington were closed, and President Bush's usual helicopter ride to the White House from Camp David was replaced by a 2 1/2-hour drive on snow-covered roads.

Twenty inches snow was predicted in parts of New Jersey, where temperatures were in the teens or lower. Flights were canceled or delayed at Atlantic City International Airport, and crews at Newark Liberty International Airport were on standby to deal with the storm as it crept north, though no significant delays were reported.

Mark Ferguson gets help shoveling snow from his dog Max in front of
their home in Columbus, Ohio. Heavy snow fell across the Ohio
Valley and into the mid-Atlantic states Sunday.

Mark Ferguson gets help shoveling snow from his dog Max in front of their home in Columbus, Ohio. Heavy snow fell across the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic states Sunday.

By early evening, more than a foot of snow blanketed much of Delaware, where up to two feet was predicted by Monday afternoon. Emergency officials were also preparing for possible flooding in coastal communities, and nonessential travel was prohibited.

Hospitals in northern Virginia and Maryland asked for volunteers with four-wheel-drive vehicles to help employees get to and from work.

"It's very nerve-racking out there, because you can't even find the road," said Merrie Street, a spokeswoman for the Harford County, Md., emergency center.

A foot to 15 inches of snow was possible in New York City, which readied 1,300 plows and 148,000 tons of salt, said Kathy Dawkins, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Sanitation.

To the west, snow-covered, icy roads led to Sunday church service cancellations in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. Classes were canceled at Ohio State University's main Columbus campus for the first time in 20 years, and Ohio University announced that its main campus in Athens would also be closed Monday.

Weather-related deaths included two in Illinois, one in Nebraska, one in West Virginia, one in Missouri and one person killed in Iowa when an Amtrak train slammed into a car stuck on the tracks in drifting snow west of Danville.

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