Winter storm hammers Northeast US, but New York spared the worst

Snowfall is less extreme than expected but still halts transit passing through NYC on way to Maine

storm packing blizzard conditions spun up the East Coast early Tuesday, pounding parts of coastal New Jersey through Maine with high winds and heavy snow.

While the storm failed to live up to predictions in some areas, it piled up more than 2 feet of snow in Boston and the surrounding areas of New England.

The storm punched out a 40-to-50-foot section of a seawall in Marshfield, Ma., badly damaging a vacant home. And in Newport, R.I., it toppled and seriously damaged the USS Providence, a 110-foot replica of a Revolutionary War sailing vessel, as the ship lay in dry dock.

In Maine and New Hampshire, a state of emergency has been declared, and government offices in both states are closed Tuesday.

The snow in New England began Monday evening, continued all day Tuesday and was not expected to ease until late evening. And the bitter cold could hang on. The low temperature Wednesday is expected to be 1 degree, and forecasters said the mercury will not climb above freezing for the next week or so.

Nearly 21 inches of snow coated Boston's Logan Airport by early afternoon, while nearby Framingham had 2 1/2 feet, according to unofficial totals. A 78 mph gust of wind was reported on Nantucket, and a 72 mph gust on Martha's Vineyard, forecasters said.

Providence, R.I. had well over a foot of snow. Sixteen inches had piled up in Portland, Maine, and 23 inches in Waterford, Conn. Montauk, on the eastern end of Long Island, got about 2 feet.

Blizzard warnings were lifted for New York City and New Jersey early Tuesday, but Boston-area subways will remain closed for at least the rest of the day.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his statewide ban on travel as "absolutely the right decision to make" in light of the dire forecast. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will look at whether storm procedures could be improved, but added: "You can't be a Monday morning quarterback on something like the weather."

More than 6,500 flights were canceled, schools and businesses closed their doors, and cities mobilized snowplows and salt spreaders in advance of the windy blast. The storm went some way toward making up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast.

Authorities initially banned travel on all streets and highways in New York City, Long Island and across New Jersey, but those bans were lifted Tuesday morning. A driving ban in Massachusetts began at midnight.

Public transportation systems in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were suspended, and Hudson River crossings were halted as the snowstorm bore down on the region.

On Monday, de Blasio warned the that nor'easter had the potential to be "the biggest snowstorm in the history of this city."

"It is not a regular storm," he said. "What you are going to see in a few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast."

New Yorkers appeared to heed the warning; the city streets were largely empty early Tuesday.

The biggest snowfall on record in New York City came during the storm of Feb. 11 and 12, 2006, which dropped 26.9 inches on the metropolis.

But by Tuesday morning, Central Park saw only about 6 inches.

Only light snow fell early Tuesday in midtown Manhattan as a few municipal trucks rumbled down mostly deserted streets. The city had an almost eerie, post-9/11 feel to it, with no airplanes in the sky and an unexpected quiet.

"When you hear the word 'crippling' and you look out your window this morning, it is not there," said John Davitt, a meteorologist on New York's NY1 news channel.

New Jersey Transit and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended bus, rail and other services on Tuesday. Amtrak suspended rail service between New York and Boston and elsewhere in Massachusetts, New York state, Vermont and Maine.

Coastal flood warnings were issued from Delaware to Maine, and National Weather Service officials in Boston reported early Tuesday that waves just a few miles outside Boston Harbor approached 20 feet.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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