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Snowstorm snarls air travel across Northeast

A winter storm blanketed much of the Northeast on Friday, delaying flights at the region's major airports and causing havoc during the morning commute.
Image: A pedestrian walks in the snow in New York.
A pedestrian walks up an approach ramp to the Metro North train station as snow falls in Ossining, N.Y., on Friday.Craig Ruttle / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A winter storm that dumped up to nine inches of fresh snow on parts of the Northeast began its voyage out to sea Saturday.

Up to a foot of snow on Friday interrupted what had been a mild winter in much of the Northeast and created havoc for travelers, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,100 flights in the New York area alone.

Roads were slick throughout the region and there were hundreds of accidents, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged people to look on the bright side.

"The timing is perfect, if you think about it," he said. "We'll have the whole weekend to clean up the mess."

If that didn't cheer up his constituents, the mayor also announced that free hot chocolate and free sled rentals were available Friday at one park in each of the city's five boroughs.

Half a foot of snow fell in New York City. Up to a foot was forecast in suburban counties, and up to 9 inches fell in parts of Connecticut. Storm warnings extended northward across Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. In many places, snow was changing over to rain, sometimes freezing rain.

The storm was not unusual for mid-February, but it was easily the New York area's most significant storm of the winter. The expansive system, which had brought everything from freezing rain to sleet to snow in parts of Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois on Thursday, lumbered eastward and northward overnight.

In Missouri, where the problem was mostly ice rather than snow, the State Highway Patrol cited slippery roads as factors in accidents that killed five people Thursday and early Friday.

Airline cancellations mount
By mid-afternoon Friday there were 548 flight cancellations at New York's LaGuardia Airport, 368 at Newark Liberty International Airport and 197 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Delays at the three airports ranged from one to three hours.

More than a quarter of the flights at Philadelphia International Airport were canceled, and delays there reached up to 4 hours Friday morning, airport spokeswoman Phyllis VanIstendal said.

Many flights also were canceled at Boston's Logan International Airport, where delays ranged from three to six hours.

The Northeast airports' problems caused residual delays of an hour or more for flights across the country headed to the region, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Low visibility at another major airport — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International — added to the slowdown.

"It's a domino thing," said Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority. "If one airport has a problem, it reflects anything that goes into there or out of there. Logan's at the end of the domino trail."

Some airlines waived their fee for passengers rebooking tickets.

‘Stuck with cheerleaders’
In Philadelphia, Karla Andrews and her group of 40 cheerleaders were told Friday morning that their Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando was going to be delayed at least until late afternoon. In all, 110 cheerleaders aged 8 to 18 from the group were delayed on their three separate flights to Florida.

Andrews, 27, took it in stride.

"That's the good thing about being stuck with cheerleaders," she said. "They're always having fun."

Motorists, too, had problems getting around. The speed limit along the New Jersey Turnpike was reduced to 35 mph, and jackknifed rigs shut down southbound lanes of Interstate 95 for a couple of hours in Greenwich, Conn. One man in Connecticut and two others in Ohio were killed in storm-related car crashes.

"I didn't go over 30 mph on the expressway," said Paul May, whose commute on New York's Long Island on Friday took three times as much as normal. "It's very slippery. The roads are treacherous."

Times Square was a mess of gray slush by afternoon, but that didn't matter to Sydney Cooper of Kingsport, Tenn.

"It's great," said Cooper. "We don't get snow in Tennessee, so I prayed for it. I was supposed to leave this morning but my flight got canceled."

Mark Mathebane, a fashion designer from Brooklyn, was taking it less in stride.

"I hate the snow," he said. "It dirties your shoes, especially when they throw salt on the ground. Salt destroys leather."

In New Haven, Conn., the snow forced Yale graduate student Andrew Goldstone to take cover under an overhang while waiting for a campus bus. Not that he was complaining.

‘Kind of weather I love’
"I'm glad to see it, finally, after such a bland, wet, warmish winter," he said. "This is the kind of weather that I love, which I've been waiting for. Of course, I don't have to drive in it."

Up to 8 inches were expected in New Hampshire's ski country, which unlike areas to the south has seen a winter full of white.

"People coming up from Boston are blown away by how much snow there is," said Alice Pearce, president of SkiNH, a group that represents many New Hampshire ski areas.

Pearce said her family built a snowman on Thanksgiving, thinking it might last a few days. "It's still in the yard, buried under the snow. It's a big mound."