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Blizzard spreads snowy shroud over nearly half the United States

A fearsome storm spread a smothering shroud of white over nearly half the nation Wednesday, snarling transportation from Oklahoma to New England, burying parts of the Midwest under 2 feet of snow and laying down dangerously heavy ice in the Northeast that was too much for some buildings to bear.

Tens of millions of people stayed home. The hardy few who ventured out faced howling winds that turned snowflakes into face-stinging needles. Chicago's 20.2 inches was the city's third-largest amount on record. In New York's Central Park, the pathways resembled skating rinks.

The storm that resulted from two clashing air masses was, if not unprecedented, extraordinarily rare for its size and ferocious strength. "A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we'd see once every 50 years — maybe," National Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.

Although skies were beginning to clear by midafternoon over much of the nation's midsection, the storm promised to leave a blast of bitter cold in its wake. Overnight temperatures in the upper Midwest were expected to fall to minus 5 to minus 20, with wind chills as low as minus 30.

The system was blamed for the death of at least a dozen people, including a homeless man who burned to death on New York's Long Island as he tried to light cans of cooking fuel and a woman in Oklahoma City who was killed while being pulled behind a truck on a sled that hit a guard rail.

Airport operations slowed to a crawl nationwide, and flight cancellations reached 13,000 for the week. A massive post-Christmas blizzard led to about 10,000 cancellations.

In the winter-weary Northeast, thick ice collapsed several structures, including a gas station canopy on Long Island and an airplane hangar and garages near Boston.

In Middletown, Conn., the entire third floor of a building failed, littering the street with bricks and snapping two trees.

Canceled flights turn TIA into ghost town

TAMPA — As airports around the country were dealing with passengers stranded by snow Wednesday, the scene at Tampa International Airport was other-worldly.

"It's a ghost town," said veteran Continental Airlines flight attendant Peggy Niesciur as she sipped tea at Starbucks before a 9 a.m. flight. "People know ahead of time their flights were canceled."

TIA saw 82 cancellations Wednesday — 46 arrivals and 36 departures.

Niesciur, 63, said this winter's cancellations and delays have been among the worst in her 25 years as a flight attendant. When she started, passengers wouldn't find out about canceled flights until an hour ahead of schedule departure. Now they can find out hours or even a full day beforehand.

So you don't see crowds of upset passengers, said Laura Martin, a Continental flight attendant for 12 years. "It's been running very smoothly. I really do believe that. Honestly, it could be a lot worse," Martin, 50, said of Tampa's airport.

Times staff

Blizzard spreads snowy shroud over nearly half the United States 02/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 2:06am]

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