Thursday, December 26, 2002

Nor'easter delivers two ft. of snow to N.Y.

Snow fell 5 inches per hour

By Devi Athiappan
The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - More than two feet of snow fell Wednesday in parts of upstate New York as a powerful Nor'easter moved up the Atlantic Coast, setting Christmas snowfall records, closing airports and bringing an unexpected holiday spectacle of lightning and thunder.

Snow was falling as fast as 5 inches per hour in eastern New York, said Evan Heller, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Albany. The Mohawk Valley was "still getting clobbered" after 26 inches of snow, and would easily get another foot, Mr. Heller said.

The New York State Thruway closed off more than 100 miles Wednesday evening because plows couldn't keep up. "The snow is coming down so hard that we're struggling to clear it," said spokesman Terry O'Brien.

For Albany, it was the first snowy Dec. 25 since 1985, and a likely record Christmas snowfall.

"Everybody's ready for it," said Jamie Georgelos, a manager at Alpin Haus ski shop in Amsterdam, about 30 miles northwest of Albany. "I think a lot of people have been missing the snow for the past few years, and they're really glad it's finally here."

The snowstorm, blowing out of the Plains, was blamed for at least 14 deaths since Monday, mostly related to traffic accidents. It moved east Tuesday night, from the Midwest into Pennsylvania, New York and New England, then re-formed Wednesday off the East Coast as a Nor'easter.

Maine was expected to see up to 18 inches of snow in places and wind gusts up to 45 mph, the weather service said.

The storm was punctuated in Connecticut with lightning and thunder. "Anytime you have anything as strong as this, a lot of precipitation and wind, you're going to get these anomalies," Heller said.

All three of New York City's airports were affected, with John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports closing Wednesday evening and flights delayed at Newark Liberty International Airport. Flights were also canceled at airports in Albany and Hartford.

To the south, Baltimore saw a morning mix of rain and sleet replaced later with cottonball-sized flakes of swirling snow that turned to thick slush as it hit the ground. Slush forced officials at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to close the two major runways temporarily. Six inches fell on parts of western Maryland.

Virginia was spared the brunt, but strong winds blew between 40 and 50 mph in some areas. In Roanoke, Va., convenience store employee Bessie Bates finally brought in a wrought iron sidewalk sign after the wind knocked it down four times.

"It's very, very windy, and I finally just got tired of putting it back up," said Bates.

The storm brought snow Monday to Texas and Oklahoma, which got more than a foot in some areas; Oklahoma City had its first white Christmas in 27 years. It brought 15 inches of snow to parts of Kansas by Tuesday morning and parts of southwest Missouri in the Ozarks had 14 inches.

Michigan caught the northwest fringe of the storm Wednesday, reporting as much as 9 inches of snow in the southern part of the state.

Snow was expected to fall in parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire on Wednesday at the rate of 3 inches an hour for several hours, bringing near whiteout conditions, said National Weather Service meteorologist Walter Drag.

"If you're safe inside and not on the roads ... then it's going to be a winter wonderland," Drag said. "If you're out traveling about, you're not going to be happy."

In Fitchburg, Mass., where forecasters are calling for up to 15 inches, workers began sanding local roads early Wednesday and expected to work until about noon Thursday. They were upbeat, despite being called in on the holiday.

"It's public safety, so it doesn't bother me that way, we keep things safe out there for the people," said dispatcher Bob Lafountain. "The family might even bring me down a plate of food."

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