There From Here On Skis, On Foot, On Sliding Wheels An Out-of-towner Hopped Out Of A Cab In Lower Merion. "Is It Close?" He Pleaded. He Was On The Way To Radnor.

Posted: March 14, 1993

It started with silence. The storm that blew north with such fury announced itself on tiptoe, an early-morning blanket of quiet that muffled the din of cars and trucks.

But then people awakened and the winds picked up, the feathery snow turning to what felt like a hail of frozen rice. The roads became daunting proving grounds for those committed or crazy enough to venture out. Traffic law quickly yielded to Darwinian law.

Finally, a real blizzard, the kind we used to have, although it's hard to remember the last time we had snow, lightning, thunder, sleet, freezing rain, hurricane winds and a sunny interlude, all in one bundle.

On North Broad Street at 11 a.m., where city snow plows were no match for the pace of Mother Nature, pedestrians and motorists alike shook off stoplights and jutted forward. Pedestrians, thinking it was they who had the hardship given the biting horizontal snow, played brazen games of chicken. Cars had to brake quickly, causing fishtails and crablike sideways skitters.

A few blocks north of Roosevelt Boulevard, three SEPTA buses idled side by side by side - a certain traffic hazard were it not that the storm left the thoroughfare unnaturally still, as if it were a place where nerve gas had been unleashed.

Storefronts stayed shuttered and lights were left dark on the commercial strip. The sidewalks were barren. A funeral procession passed with just three cars.

The snow introduced new sports for motorists, such as dodging cross-country skiers. Along Route 202 in King of Prussia and Kelly Drive in Philadelphia, those on two boards were faring better than those on four wheels. When a downed tree made Kelly Drive all but impassable for motorists, the skiers took the clear advantage.

Man and machine teamed up in West Chester, where pickup trucks rolled through the streets pulling downhill skiers. Snowmobiles became the most efficient way of getting about there, as well as in Malvern.

It was a day for dashed plans. A Philadelphia Electric Company crew working on Lancaster Avenue in Lower Merion looked up to see a man jump out of a cab in loafers. He was on his way from Toronto to Miami and the weather stuck him in Philadelphia.

He was looking for the Radnor Hotel. "Is it close?" he asked desperately. ''I'm up to $60 in this cab already."

A fallen tree forced the cab off Lancaster Avenue, and undoubtedly made his stay in Philadelphia more costly.

The brave were rewarded with short lines. Louise Rexrode of Newtown was the only soul to show up at her accountant's office to get her taxes done. Julie Meehan of West Bradford Township decided it would be a prime day to hit the local Kmart, which was having a sale on summer shorts.

Adam Shuman, 38, a firefighter and sculptor, was spotted skiing up Lincoln Drive near Wayne Avenue in Mount Airy. "I went all through the Wissahickon and watched a few trees fall down . . . .," he said. "Storm of the century. I'm not staying home."

West Chester residents trudged through the snow to bring food from their freezers and cupboards to 150 teenagers and their chaperones who were stranded at the West Chester University field house for a color guard competition.

The visitors woke up yesterday morning without anything to eat.

Cathy Thomas, chaperone for the Carolina Visual Productions color guard, telephoned a friend nearby and told her of the hungry students, who had arrived the night before from Quebec, New Jersey and North Carolina and spent the night in sleeping bags.

The friend called a local television station, which broadcast their plight and - as one student joked later - "made it sound like that movie where the people were eating each other." Before long, the good citizens of West Chester were on the case.

There were other heroic gestures. An Upper Merion women who went into labor yesterday got to Bryn Mawr Hospital by special delivery.

A township ambulance that picked her up at home shortly after 11:30 a.m. was met at the municipal limits by a Lower Merion snow plow, which cleared the way "to assure they got a clean run," said Lt. George Clement of the Lower Merion police.

The woman, whom hospital officials would not identify, had not had the baby as of early last evening.

Philadelphia police and fire officials were only responding to medical emergencies and asked people not to ask for nonessential rides.

"We had people calling to go the hospital in the middle of the storm for hemorrhoids," said a fire official.

It all impressed Jennifer Van Ornam, 23, a clerk at the Newtown 7-Eleven who moved here from Florida in May.

"This is my first real, full-fledged serious snowstorm," she said. "It's exhilarating. It's better than that piddling one-inch stuff, and besides, I know spring is just around the corner."

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