The mountains of snow that have covered the Northeastern landscape for the past month and a half are finally melting, revealing oozing lumps of garbage, gaping potholes, bicycles, rat-infested sofas, discarded Christmas trees — even bodies.
More than 57 inches of snow has fallen on New York City this winter, its snowiest January ever, and the story is similar elsewhere around the Northeast. Residents welcomed warmer weather this week before an expected plunge back into the freezer, but they weren't so thrilled about the side effects.
"This is disgusting. I can't tell if it's snow or garbage or some sick other thing," said Karen James, 34, finding discarded bills, paper cups and sludge in the shrinking mound of snow and ice covering her car. "This stinks."
Since a post-Christmas blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of the city, the snow piles have become as familiar as taxis to New Yorkers, forcing pedestrians to weave single-file through snow-packed sidewalks.
Two bodies were found in vehicles last week. In both cases, a passer-by spotted someone slumped over the wheel after snow melted away from the windows. One man was found dead Feb. 1 of an apparent gunshot wound; he had been reported missing a week earlier. And on Friday, a day after he was reported missing, a man was found dead in the driver's seat of a BMW. Authorities believe he may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
At least one other body was discovered in the New York area in late January, in a parking lot in West Nyack. The man had been dead of hypothermia for several days before anyone noticed, police said.
The city Sanitation Department is responsible for plowing streets and crosswalks, while residents and businesses are expected to clear sidewalks. After grousing for weeks about the city's failure to plow enough snow, many New Yorkers are now griping about the garbage piles and big pieces of furniture, some crawling with rats.
During the many snowstorms to hit the city, the Sanitation Department suspended garbage collection for days at a time in order to use trucks for snow removal, which meant about 11,000 tons of trash per day didn't get collected. Some of it got buried by the succeeding storms.
Garbage collection has since resumed, but it's not proceeding fast enough for some New Yorkers.
"It's like we've replaced the snow walls with garbage walls," said Brooklyn resident Jill Coniglario, 38. "Even the parks are covered in mud and filthy snow. My kids are not playing in this stuff, that's for sure."
Granted, the mess has been caused by more than just missed collections. People have been tossing loose trash onto the bags, and it's winding up on the sidewalks and streets.
Plastic McDonald's cups. Broken bottles of Budweiser and empty cans of Four Loko. Cigarette butts. Smashed umbrellas. Sheet music. Soggy gloves. Old newspapers. And damp, dirty sofas — all left out in the open, as if they, too, will just melt away.
And thanks to pet owners who got a little lazy in the bad weather, many city streets are now shellacked with dog feces.
The combined assault of snowplows and rock salt has created another big problem in the Northeast: potholes.
Crews on the pockmarked streets of New Jersey are applying temporary patches because the more permanent fillings require warmer weather. The winter has also left some bone-jarring holes in Connecticut, including some on a ramp off Interstate 84 in Hartford.
In Philadelphia, yo-yoing temperatures that followed several sloppy storms of rain, freezing rain and snow over the past several weeks have also been unkind to streets. Crews are patching the holes with cold asphalt, a temporary fix until hot asphalt can be used in the spring.
In New York, as residents dug out their cars in recent days, sanitation crews tried to remove the big piles not taken care of by nature. In some places, crews are hauling away the snow in dump trucks and taking it one of 36 giant hot tub-like snowmelters that sit over the sewers. Most of the tubs can melt 60 tons per hour, and in most winters, the job would be done by now, department spokesman Vito Turso said.
"We have had snow upon snow upon snow," Turso said. "It's starting to feel like we're going to see snow on the streets until opening day at Yankee Stadium."