Astrid Riecken / Getty Images

East Coast, shoveling out from deadly blizzard, faces difficult commute

New Yorkers trudge back to work after the city’s second-biggest storm since 1869; Washington remains mostly shut

The blizzard-blanketed eastern United States confronted a Monday commute slowed by slick roads, damaged transit lines and endless mounds of snow in the aftermath of a storm that left at least 30 people dead.

Early on Monday morning, authorities cautioned against unnecessary driving, airline schedules remained in disarray and commuter trains were delayed or canceled for many as the work week began after a storm that dumped near record snows on the densely populated corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City.

New York began emerging from the snow on Sunday. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo lifted a travel ban on New York City-area roads and on Long Island at 7 a.m. on Sunday. Most bus and subway services operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were up and running again by 9 a.m., officials said. The Metro-North rail line, which serves suburbs north and east of New York City, was restored on Sunday afternoon and was operating on a Sunday schedule. New York's transit authority said partial service on the Long Island Rail Road was restored on three of its 12 branches and diesel train service was operating on three other branches.

“We still have some areas that we have to do a lot more work on. But we've come through it pretty well,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on ABC's Sunday program “This Week.” “We think we'll be broadly up and running again at the city tomorrow.”

Snow in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

In Washington, where a traffic ban was still in effect, the recovery got off to a slower start, with the entire transit system closed through Sunday. The Office of Personnel Management said federal government offices in the Washington area will be closed on Monday, along with state and local government offices and schools.

The last flakes fell just before midnight Saturday, but crews raced the clock all day Sunday to clear streets and sidewalks before traffic and pedestrians returned in full force.

Ice chunks plunging from the roofs of tall buildings menaced people who ventured out in Philadelphia and New York. Only the high winds on Manhattan's Upper West Side kept the snow from entirely swallowing the tiny Mini Cooper of Daniel Bardman, who nervously watched for falling icicles as he dug out.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraged people to leave their plowed-in cars covered with snow all week after a one-day record of 26.6 inches fell in Central Park.

Treacherous conditions remained as people recovered from a storm that dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England. At least 30 deaths were blamed on the weather, with shoveling snow and breathing carbon monoxide collectively claiming almost as many lives as car crashes.

Broadway reopened Sunday after going dark at the last minute during the snowstorm, but museums remained closed in Washington, and the House has postponed votes this coming week — including one on overriding President Barack Obama's health care veto — because of the snowstorm. The House already was planning on a short workweek because Democrats are set to hold their annual legislative retreat beginning Wednesday in Baltimore.

Flying is expected to remain particularly messy on Monday after nearly 12,000 weekend flights were canceled. Airports resumed limited service in New York City, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, which said it got an entire winter's snow in two days. Washington-area airports remained closed Sunday after the punishing blizzard.

Major airlines also canceled hundreds of flights for Monday. Along with clearing snow and ice from facilities and equipment, the operators of airlines, train and transit systems had to figure out how to get snowbound employees to work.

Overall snowfall of 26.8 inches in Central Park made it New York's second biggest winter storm since records began in 1869, and Saturday's 26.6 inches made for a single-day record in the city. 

How deep is deep?

In Washington, according to The Washington Post, the number that will go down in the history books as Washington's official total, 17.8 inches, falls short compared with some other spots in the region, raising the question, Why the disparity?

The answer: an improvised technique used by a small team of weather observers at Reagan National Airport after they lost their snow-measuring device to the elements midway through the blizzard.

That may have kept the blizzard of 2016 from breaking into the region's top three snowstorms on record, based on accumulations, prompting the National Weather Service to announce that it will be looking into the procedures used at Reagan National.

The National Weather Service has clear guidelines on how to measure snowfall for one simple reason: How much snow falls may determine whether additional relief is sent into a location after a major storm.

On Sunday the senior weather observer at National, Mark Richards, stood by the accuracy of the reading, saying his team did the best it could under tough conditions.

"Everyone has to understand that measuring snow in a blizzard is a tough thing to do," he said. "We would like it to be as accurate as possible," he said. "But it's an inexact science."

Wire services

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