Blizzard lands some travelers in Philly

Posted: February 10, 2013

Frank Kummer Philly.com As the Northeast blizzard of 2013 disrupted air and train travel, some travelers got an unplanned visit to Philadelphia.

At Philadelphia International Airport, travelers said they'd spent hours in transit trying to reach destinations further north. While flights were generally leaving on time, with some cancellations still on the departures board, many travelers said they'd been forced to rearrange schedules and book hotel rooms to get around the storm which generally spared the Philadelphia region.

Some 32 travelers spent the night in the airport Friday and were provided with blankets, pillows, sleeping mats, snacks and vanity kits.

The airport remained open and operating with fewer flight cancellations on Saturday than Friday when 1200 flights got out and 260 arriving or departing flights cancelled. On Saturday, 160 flights were cancelled out of 1,000 flights.

"We're operating normally," said Victoria Lupica, airport spokeswoman.

Officials are urging travellers to check with their carriers by calling 1-800-PHL-GATE (1-800-745-4283), or check the website ( www.phil.org) before making the trek to catch a flight or pickup.

At 30th Street Station, trains were mostly up and running. A message on the departures board cautioned travelers about potential weather-related delays, and a train from Boston to Richmond was delayed 20 minutes. Another from Philadelphia to Miami was delayed 30 minutes.

Kathy Reiner, who was waiting for the Boston-to-Richmond train, said an earlier train on that route had been cancelled. She shrugged nonchalantly when asked whether she was frustrated by the weather.

"We're all shoveled out at home, so we're fine," said Reiner, who lives north of Philadelphia.

At the airport, Alexandros Zervos, a Greek-American who works for the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said he had planned to visit his 91-year-old grandmother, who lives in a retirement home in Vermont. He had scheduled a flight out of Amsterdam into New York but found out Friday that his flight had been cancelled and flew into Dallas instead. He planned to take a train from Philadelphia to New York and then catch a flight to Vermont.

His grandmother has suffered several strokes and Zervos said he had planned a "weekend of being present" with her.

"What a terrible weekend to choose," he said, laughing. "But the important thing is -- you get there safely. You look at it as an adventure."

Amy Cohen, of Albany, was traveling with her three young children after a week-long vacation at Disney World. Their flight out of Orlando had been cancelled, and she and her husband woke the children up at 2:30 a.m. to catch a flight into Philadelphia -- the farthest north they could get. Flights to Albany had been cancelled through Tuesday, she said.

The family planned to rent a car and drive five hours to Albany from Philadelphia.

"We figured it out early Friday -- 'panic' is what comes to mind," Cohen said. "It kind of ruined the last day of our vacation -- we had to spend all day on the phone."

Mary Vieira, of Modesto, Calif., said she and her husband had spent over 30 hours in transit by Saturday morning. She sat just outside the check-in counters, frantically trying to schedule a flight to Lisbon, where she was due on business.

Vieira, a broker, said her flight from San Francisco to Boston had been cancelled, rerouted and cancelled again. She spent the night in Philadelphia after missing a connecting flight while waiting for her luggage. Vieira said she would spend another 16 hours in transit before arriving in Lisbon.

"In California you don't encounter this -- you couldn't pay me enough to live back east," she said, laughing. But, she said, she'd run "into the best of people" in Philadelphia, adding that flight attendants and hotel representatives had been friendly and helpful and fellow travelers had been sympathetic.

"The girl next to me on the flight from San Francisco was from Philly, and she gave me a hug as we got off the flight," Vieira said. "You would not find that in L.A."

By mid-day, the biggest snowstorm to hit the Philadelphia region this year storm was well gone and the sun was shining through most of the region.

And it didn't amount to much for most of us, although snowfall totals varied even within counties.

The nor'easter that moved up the coast, part of the two-front storm to srike the Northeast, moved swiftly through in the wee hours and was largely sparing of snow.

Parts of the Lehigh Valley, expected to get the brunt of the snow in the region, didn't get much more than five inches. The Somerton section of Philadelphia saw the largest snowfall in the city, with about 4.7 inches, according to Mitchell Gaines, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

"We had several bands of snow setup across the region last night," Gaines said. "Some were heavy, making it quite variable. We had only an inch in some spots, and more in others."

Gaines said Slatington, in Lehigh County, recorded 5.2 inches of snow. Northern New Jersey saw heavy snow, with Chatham, Morris County, recording 14 inches.

However, most of the snow had moved out of the region before daybreak. The nor'easter that struck here collided further north with a clipper from the west and packed a lot more power in New England.

The massive storm packed hurricane-force winds and blizzard conditions as it swept through the Northeast, dumping nearly 2 feet of snow on New England and knocking out power to more than a half a million customers.

More than 23 inches of snow had fallen in parts of central Connecticut by early today, and more than 21 inches covered Randolph in southeastern Massachusetts. The National Weather Service says up to 3 feet of snow is expected in Boston, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches.

Throughout the Northeast, more than 600,000 homes and businesses lost electricity. Airlines canceled more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport closed.

The storm is being blamed on at least four deaths in New York and Canada.

Locally, snow-slicked roads did make for treacherous driving late Friday and into the early morning hours Saturday.

Overnight, several people were reportedly struck on Skippack Pike in Blue Bell, Montgomery County. And a vehicle overturned on Swamp Pike in Pottstown with three people inside who had to be rescued. And a vehicle flipped on Route 660 in Mansfield, Burlington County. None of the accidents appeared to be fatal as of early this morning.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Transportation reported no road closures or major problems. While outages were few, utilities warn that Pennsylvania is not yet in the clear. PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood says "we could see some trouble" if winds pick up as expected.

Temperatures will plunge tonight to about 16. But Sunday should be sunny with a high of 39, likely to melt any lingering snow.

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