A gigantic midwinter storm buried the Northeast in snow on Saturday, leaving behind a debilitated and disoriented region digging through plump white drifts and reeling from gale-force winds.
Painting a white landscape from Maine to New York, the storm expressed itself much as weather forecasters had predicted. New York City eluded its worst bite, and muffled-up pedestrians trooped along slushy sidewalks as insouciantly as after any matter-of-fact winter snowfall. But points to the north and east were battered hard.
More than three feet of snow fell on parts of Connecticut, and more than two feet accumulated on Long Island and in Massachusetts, causing coastal flooding that forced evacuations of some Massachusetts communities.
Hundreds of thousands of people shivered without power in the biting cold. Wind gusts of 80 miles per hour cut power lines and toppled trees.
The storm, spawned by the collision of two weather systems, touched more than 40 million people, though early reports suggested it accounted for only a handful of deaths. One awful case involved a young boy shoveling snow with his father in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after he retreated inside a car to warm up. The exhaust pipe was blocked by snow.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg expressed relief at a Saturday morning news conference that the city had avoided worse damage and offered to assist the more heavily pounded neighboring states and Long Island, the hardest-hit part of New York State. Most roads in the city, he said, were well on the way to being cleared, and he thanked people for staying off the streets during the storm. The accumulation in Central Park was measured at 11.4 inches by the time the snow relented at daybreak Saturday.
"I think it is fair to say we were very lucky," Mr. Bloomberg said.
But for many areas, "this storm will rank in the top five of recorded snowstorms," said David Stark, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in eastern Suffolk County on Long Island. Outside his office, measurements have been taken since 1949, and this storm beat them all with 30.9 inches.
"The way this evolved was a very classic winter nor'easter," Mr. Stark said. "The way it formed and moved is well understood, and it is the type of situation we have seen in the past - but this storm brought more moisture and therefore more snow."
The National Weather Service received reports of flooding up and down the Massachusetts coast, especially in areas just north and south of Boston. Water carrying slabs of ice sloshed through the streets and lapped against houses. The National Guard was dispatched to assist in evacuations.
Waves off the South Shore of Boston and parts of Cape Cod measured as high as 20 feet. Two feet of water was observed in Winthrop, Mass., just north of Boston. Waters breached a sea wall in the Humarock section of Scituate, while roads in Gloucester, Marblehead and Revere were reported flooded or impassable.
At a news conference, Gov.Andrew M. Cuomo said New York would send crews to Connecticut and Massachusetts to help remove snow and restore power.
Some streets in Connecticut resembled ski slopes or mountain passes. People could not open their doors.
With snow still falling, the Weather Service said it had reports out of New Haven County of 36.2 inches in Oxford and 38 inches in Milford. In Commack, on Long Island, 29.1 inches of snow was reported at 6 a.m. and 27.5 inches at MacArthur Airport in Islip. In Boston, where the sun finally broke through about 2 p.m. Saturday, the official accumulation was 24.9 inches, the fifth highest in city history.
On Long Island, the storm barreled in so quickly on Friday night that hundreds of drivers abandoned their cars as roads became impassable, even with snowplows working furiously. Scores of cars including tow trucks, semis and even county snowplows were strewn about and stuck in the snow along North Ocean Avenue in Brookhaven, which had received 30.3 inches by 6 a.m.
Barbara Bariciano, 43, a housecleaner, tried to shadow the plows, but the snow snapped both windshield wipers on her Honda Civic hybrid.
"My knees are shaking," she said when she stopped at a gas station to scrape snow from her windshield. "I'm going to stay right here for a while."
States of emergency were declared in five states. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts banned travel on all roads as night fell on Friday, an order that remained in effect until 4 p.m. Saturday. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut reported cars stranded across his state despite orders to stay off the roads, and said several people needed to be treated for hypothermia after spending hours trapped in their cars.
In Bridgeport, Conn., George Berry, 69, was stuck on a road in his Chrysler sedan, holding up traffic. He had worked the night shift at a supermarket and was almost home. Three men were digging out his car. Two of them had also been offering their services to homeowners, charging between $20 and $50.
The three men extricated Mr. Berry's car and he handed them $20.
Coming less than four months after Hurricane Sandy walloped the New York area and boldly confirmed the merciless side of nature, weather-anxious residents took this storm very seriously. People crowded supermarkets and supply stores to stock up as the storm bore down on the region. Long lines materialized at gas stations.
But it was impossible for some to stay home minus power. More than 400,000 customers were reported without power in Massachusetts, and more than 180,000 in Rhode Island. The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass., shut down because of the storm. On Long Island, about 10,000 customers were reported without power, the Long Island Power Authority said. New York City fared far better: 478 customers were out of power in Brooklyn, according to Consolidated Edison, for by far the most of any borough. Manhattan was next with 184.
National Grid said it had more than 2,000 crews working to restore power in Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts, including supplemental crews from 26 states and two Canadian provinces. As of Saturday afternoon, they had restored power to about 25,000 customers in Massachusetts and predicted in a late-afternoon statement that "all Massachusetts customers outside of Norfolk and Plymouth Counties should have power within 24 hours."
Areas in those two counties, south of Boston, were flooded when the ocean breached their sea walls. "Given the extensive damage to the electric system in these two counties, it will be at least a few days before all customers will have their power back in those areas," National Grid said.
Marcy Reed, president of National Grid, which also supplies power to the Long Island Power Authority, said failures there could last several days because repairs would require unearthing power lines buried under mounds of snow.
In Massachusetts, National Guard soldiers were deployed, mainly in the southeastern part of the state, to retrieve residents and take them to warming centers and shelters. Yet even members of the Guard found themselves trapped at home; only about 2,000 out of a force of more than 5,000 managed to get out.
Betty Ludtke, the single mother of newborn twins and two other young children, woke up at midnight to find her Hyannis Port home on Cape Cod without electricity. To keep warm, they snuggled beneath down comforters on the living room floor. Her car was encased in snow.
"I wouldn't be so worried for myself but with the kids" she said. Then just before noon on Saturday, Wilson Dsouza, a close family friend who lives about four miles away, appeared at her door. He had flagged down a snowplow to get his own car out and took the Ludtkes back to his house.
The Boston Archdiocese released Roman Catholics from their obligation to attend Mass on Sunday, saying they should attend only if they could do so safely. Logan International Airport in Boston was expected to open Saturday night. The three international airports around New York City were slowly working to resume operations on Saturday. With more than 5,000 flights canceled since Friday, many travelers could still face challenges.
Many people in New York City woke up early to snap photos of snow-topped streetlamps and make fresh tracks on their way to find the best hill to go sledding. Or they looked to pick up income. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, Ashley Faria, 18, snow shovel in hand, had just cleared a neighbor's stoop and sidewalk and collected $20.
"I enjoy it, it's peaceful," she said. "I'm listening to my music. I could do it all day."