Snowstorm shuts down communities and rewrites the record book again

Dave Ennis, 54, guides his snowblower into a field of snow to clear his neighbor's driveway in the Hopewell development of East Brandywine.
Dave Ennis, 54, guides his snowblower into a field of snow to clear his neighbor's driveway in the Hopewell development of East Brandywine. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 15, 2014

The snow accumulated at astonishing rates, up to four inches an hour.

And by the time most people got out of bed Thursday, yet another snow record had fallen. Schools, roads, malls, and governments had decided to call it a snow day, and the streets of a county seat were turned into cross-country ski trails.

A week after a storm darkened whole communities in the region, a potent nor'easter simply shut them down, this time on both sides of the Delaware River, with up to 16 inches of snow, leaving them with prodigious cleanup chores.

The storm was yet another blow to county and municipal road budgets and salt supplies.

"We're having a storm every week," said Camden County Freeholder Ian K. Leonard. "Naturally, there's a salt shortage. We're critically low."

And it was another hit on school calendars. All Philadelphia public and parochial schools will be closed again Friday, and so will many others in the region.

SEPTA will continue detours of bus and trolley routes, and airport delays are likely, given the large area of the storm's trauma, from the Deep South to northern New England.

In New Jersey, Gov. Christie ordered state offices to open later than usual, at 10:30 a.m., for nonessential employees. The goal was to allow time for roads and sidewalks to be cleared of snow.

Friday should be a decent day for melting, with temperatures inching above freezing. But a nuisance snow, maybe one to three inches, is possible during the weekend.

But, one snowfall at a time.

It wasn't the first time this winter that a storm was snowier than advertised. But it was an impressive performance, "even in a winter where storms have overperformed," said Tony Gigi, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

Officially, 9.8 inches had fallen in Philadelphia as of 1 p.m. Thursday, increasing the season's total to 53.1 inches, the fifth-snowiest in the 130-year period of record. This was the fourth snowfall of eight inches or more, and before this winter Philadelphia hadn't had more than three of six inches or more in a single season.

By daybreak, the city had recorded more snow this winter than either Burlington, Vt., or Boston.

A week after the ice storm that knocked out power to 715,000 Peco Energy Co. customers, the one bright spot this time was a lack of power outages. Gigi said that was the result of good fortune: The winds were strong enough to blow the snow off trees, but not quite strong enough to rip down branches.

By late Thursday afternoon, Lower Merion Township, hard-hit last week, was reporting only three customers without power.

But the heavy snow, generated by powerful snow bands that set up across the entire region, according to Mitchell Gaines, another Mount Holly meteorologist, caused all sorts of other disruptions, even knocking out a Philadelphia Orchestra performance and causing serious transportation disruptions.

More than 400 flights, more than 70 percent of the total, were reported canceled at Philadelphia International Airport. SEPTA halted all bus and rail operations at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Those who ventured onto the roads found them treacherous; New Jersey State Police responded to more than 120 accidents in the morning.

Snow was falling at rates of three and four inches an hour during the morning, Gaines said. To put that in perspective, only four inches fell during the entire season two winters ago.

Normally bustling communities became whitened ghost towns, and finding open businesses was a challenge.

In a shopping center in Frazer, Chester County, with a dozen businesses, only the U.S. Post Office and Seasons Pizza, a chain restaurant, were open. How did the owner, George Matafias, make it in? He slept there overnight.

By around noon, about 30 people had come by to pick up food, most from nearby.

On a day without courts or government, Doylestown, the Bucks County seat, was a surreal place Thursday, the only sound the rumble of a plow trucks.

Steve Nelson wanted coffee, but roads around Doylestown were buried in snow.

From his home about a mile away, Nelson, 56, glided around town on his cross-country skis, eventually making his way to Starbucks, one of the only businesses open.

Nelson wasn't complaining about the pure, white, desolate, snowy streets. His word for it all: "Exhilarating."


> Inquirer.com

Find updates on the snowstorm, including closings and travel alerts, at Inquirer.com


610-313-8210 twood@phillynews.com


Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Kathy Boccella, Michaelle Bond, Vernon Clark, Edward Colimore, Carolyn Davis, Angelo Fichera, Joseph A. Gambardello, Tricia L. Nadolny, Paul Nussbaum, Chris Palmer, Mari A. Schaefer, and Amy Worden.

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