NEW YORK — Last weekend’s Northeast snowstorm ranks as a Category 3, or major, storm, the National Climatic Data Center said Tuesday in its first use of a new impact scale.
The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale ranked the storm as having the 20th biggest impact out of 32 storms sampled between 1956 and 2006.
The scale ranks the severity of an East Coast snowstorm based on snowfall amount and the population of the affected areas.
The five categories are: Notable, Significant, Major, Crippling or Extreme.
But scientists acknowledged that the rough conditions made measuring the snowfall difficult.
“Near-blizzard conditions prevailed in the Northeast over the weekend, with winds gusting more than 50 mph along the coastal areas,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement. “The strong winds produced snow drifts more than four feet high and made snow measurements difficult.”
NOAA said the storm was not ranked higher because the record snowfalls reported in some areas were not regionwide. “Other snow storms of the recent past, such as the 1993 Storm of the Century (NESIS Category 5) and the January Blizzard of 1996 covered areas throughout the eastern U.S.,” NOAA said.
Cleanup from the storm began in earnest Monday, with road crews clearing highways and air travelers catching new flights.
Hundreds of schools canceled Monday classes from West Virginia to Massachusetts. Utility crews worked to restore power to thousands of homes and businesses blacked out when wind gusting to 50 mph knocked down power lines.
“I never want to see snow again,” said stalled traveler Laura Guerra, 27, of Miami, after spending the night on a cot at LaGuardia Airport. She said she hadn’t seen snow since she was 4, “But I got it out of my system.”
The weekend storm blanketed the Eastern Seaboard and Appalachians from western North Carolina to Maine, dropping 26.9 inches of snow in Central Park — the heaviest since record-keeping was started in 1869, the National Weather Service said. The old record was 26.4 inches in December 1947.
Children were thrilled to dig out their sleds, little used until now in this unusually mild winter.
“We’re hoping for 365 days off from school,” said 9-year-old Reagan Manz, playing in Central Park with friends. “We could go sledding the whole time and not get bored.”
More than 30 inches in Connecticut
Fairfield, Conn., got 30.2 inches of snow, and Rahway, N.J., had 27 inches, according to unofficial observations reported to the weather service. Just west of Philadelphia, 21 inches of snow was recorded in West Caln Township; the average snowfall for an entire winter in Philadelphia is about 21 inches. Wilbraham, Mass., east of Springfield, reported 22 inches, and some areas of the state had 3-foot drifts.
In the mountains of western North Carolina, Robbinsville got 20 inches of snow and drifts up to 6 feet high closed the Cherohala Skyway, a scenic route through the area to the Tennessee line. Unlike most of the Northeast, light snow continued falling in the area Monday.
All three major New York-area airports — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark — had reopened with limited service by Monday morning after hundreds of flights were called off Sunday. A Turkish Airlines flight skidded off a runway at Kennedy when it landed late Sunday, but none of the 198 passengers was injured, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Airlines also canceled hundreds of flights Sunday at major airports from Washington’s Reagan National to Boston’s Logan International.
Travelers stranded across the nation
The Northeast airport closures and grounded planes stranded travelers across the country. About 7,500 people were stuck at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, spokesman Steve Belleme said.
“Our car’s in Newark. We can’t even get close to there,” said Maria Martinez, whose flight from Miami International Airport was canceled. “We can’t even get to Philadelphia or D.C.”
Some passengers also were stranded on the Long Island Rail Road east of New York City, where trains got stuck on snow-covered tracks, officials said. One train was marooned for five hours. Limited service into Penn Station in Manhattan resumed Monday morning but some branches on Long Island were still out of service.
“Usually the trains never stop. It’s never been like this,” said Rebecca Karpus, who was waiting to return home Monday morning on the LIRR after being marooned at Penn Station since 6:30 p.m. Sunday. “It’s really paralyzed us.”
Amtrak said it still had numerous storm-related schedule changes Monday morning.
Most highways were in good shape for the Monday morning commute, but many city streets and sidewalks were still packed with snow.
The storm also knocked out power across parts of the Northeast, most severely in Maryland, where more than 150,000 customers were blacked out and utilities said more than 48,000 still had no power Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.