PHILADELPHIA – The latest storm to roll off nature's assembly line this bustling winter spread heavy snow and sleet along the Northeast corridor Thursday, while utility crews in the ice-encrusted South labored to restore power to hundreds of thousands of shivering residents.
The sloppy weather shuttered schools and businesses, made driving scary, grounded more than 6,000 flights on Thursday alone and created more back-breaking work for people along the East Coast, where shoveling out has become a weekly chore — sometimes a twice-weekly one.
"Snow has become a four-letter word," said Tom McGarrigle, chairman of the Delaware County Council, in suburban Philadelphia.
Baltimore awoke to 15 inches of snow. Washington, D.C., had at least 11, and federal offices and the city's two main airports were closed.
Philadelphia had nearly 9 inches, making it the fourth 6-inch snowstorm of the season — the first time that has happened in the city's history. New York City had at least 8 inches. New England was receiving much smaller amounts. Parts of New Jersey had over 11 inches.
In New Cumberland, Pa., Randal DeIvernois had to take a rest after shoveling his driveway. His snow blower had conked out.
"Every time it snows, it's like, oh, not again," he said. "I didn't get this much snow when I lived in Colorado. It's warmer at the Olympics than it is here. That's ridiculous."
At least 17 deaths, most of them in traffic accidents, were blamed on the storm as it made its way across the South and up the coast.
The victims included a truck driver in Ashburn, Va., who was working to clear snowy roads. He had pulled off the road and was standing behind his vehicle when he was hit by a dump truck.
Across the South, the storm left in its wake a world of ice-encrusted trees and driveways and snapped branches and power lines.
About 750,000 homes and businesses were left without power in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama, with scattered outages reported in the mid-Atlantic.
More than 200,000 households and businesses in the Atlanta area alone were waiting for the electricity to come back on. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing again overnight.
In North Carolina, where the storm caused huge traffic jams in the Raleigh area on Wednesday as people left work and rushed to get home in the middle of the day, National Guardsmen in high-riding Humvees patrolled the snowy roads, looking for stranded motorists.
North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said there was no way to estimate how many had gotten stuck in their vehicles.
Some roads around Raleigh remained clogged with abandoned vehicles Thursday morning. City crews were working to tow the vehicles to safe areas where their owners could recover them.
By late Thursday morning, parts of northern Georgia had over 9 inches of snow, while North Carolina ranged from 6 inches in cities to up to 15 inches in mountainous areas. Parts of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania were reporting 15 to 18 inches.
Pat O'Pake, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plow operator with more than 20 years on the job, began his grueling 12-hour shift at midnight, plying a stretch of Interstate 78 in Berks County.
"It's like a dog chasing its tail all day," O'Pake said as he drove his 14-ton International at a steady 37 mph. "Until it stops snowing, and then we'll catch up at the end. We always do. It just takes a while."
The procession of storms and cold blasts — blamed in part on a kink in the jet stream, the high-altitude air currents that dictate weather — has cut into retail sales across the U.S., the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Sales dipped 0.4 percent in January.
"It's been a tough winter. It seems like it will never end," said Deb Ragan, clearing a sidewalk in downtown Philadelphia.
Many school systems have run out of school days. South Carolina lawmakers will consider letting school boards forgive up to five days of canceled classes.
Ice melt and road salt supplies are dwindling fast. PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Transatt said it has used 926,000 tons of salt so far this season, compared with 748,000 tons at this point, on average, in recent years.
"Statewide, we do have enough for a handful of more storms," she said.
The dangerous weather threatened to disrupt deliveries of Valentine's Day flowers.
"It's a godawful thing," said Mike Flood, owner of Falls Church Florist in Virginia. "We're going to lose money, there's no doubt about it."