WASHINGTON — A blizzard-like storm rocked the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday, crippling travel across the region and leaving hundreds of thousands of customers without power.
Five deaths appeared to have been caused by the storm system, which stretched from the Carolinas north to New England and also spread into some Midwestern states.
The 14 inches of snow that fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever recorded for a single December day, while about 9 inches fell in Philadelphia.
Those who did venture out were treated to nearly desolate stores on what is usually one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
The National Guard used Humvees to rescue stranded motorists in Virginia and some 500 people sought warmth and refuge in emergency shelters.
"The snow has not stopped falling, the storm isn't over, and folks should not think this is crying wolf," said Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
More than two feet of snow fell in some areas since Friday, and the nation's capital was under a blizzard warning. Public transportation nearly ground to a halt, but it wasn't enough to keep senators from staying in session to debate health care reform.
The slow-moving storm was headed to the Northeast, where forecasters said parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachussetts could see more than 16 inches by tonight. Forecasters expected the storm to drop as much as 10 inches on New York.
Snowplows cleared the runway at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington as President Barack Obama returned from climate talks in Copenhagen. The White House said Obama rode in a motorcade back to the White House, instead of taking his helicopter, because of the conditions.
The region was virtually a sea of white. The Smithsonian Institution closed its museums, and the National Mall, which normally would be swarming with tourists, instead was the scene of snowball fights and cross-country skiers.
One person in Virginia was killed in a traffic accident caused by slick roads, and authorities said the weather may have contributed to another traffic death. A third death is believed to have been caused by exposure. In Ohio, two people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads hit by the same storm system.
The storm came from the Gulf and drenched South Florida with rain starting late Thursday, leaving flooded homes and stranded drivers.