A blustery, late-season storm clobbered the Northeast with sleet and heavy snow Tuesday, crippling much of the Washington-to-Boston corridor after a stretch of unusually mild winter weather that had people thinking spring was already here.
The powerful nor'easter unloaded 1 to 2 feet of snow in places, grounded more than 6,000 flights, knocked out power to nearly a quarter-million customers from Virginia northward and, by the time it reached Massachusetts, had turned into a blizzard, with the wind gusting at nearly hurricane force over 70 mph along the coast.
Residents were urged to stay off the roads. Police said a 16-year-old girl was killed when she lost control of her car on a snowy road and hit a tree in Gilford, New Hampshire. And in East Hartford, Connecticut, a man died after being hit by a plow during the storm.
Officials closed schools in cities big and small, Amtrak modified or suspended service up and down the Northeast Corridor and the post office halted mail delivery.
According to the airline-tracking website FlightAware, the flight cancellations included nearly 3,300 in the New York City area alone. Hundreds of passengers were stranded at airports. It is unclear how quickly airlines will resume operations to and from the affected airports, but 656 Wednesday flights are already canceled.
Laura and Matthew Balderstone of West Yorkshire, England, intended to spend their honeymoon in Florida but found themselves stuck at the Newark, New Jersey, airport and couldn't find a hotel room.
"It's better safe than sorry, especially flying. I suppose it's a shame that we can't get another way around this," Matthew Balderstone said. "It's just the way it is, unfortunately."
Philadelphia and New York escaped the brunt of the snow, getting just a few inches rather than the foot or more forecasters had expected before the storm switched over to sleet. But officials warned of dangerous ice.
Residents farther inland were clobbered with snow. Binghamton, New York, had 22 inches by mid-afternoon, while more than a foot fell in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Vernon, New Jersey, got at least 19 inches, and Monterey, Massachusetts, 15 inches, with snow still accumulating Tuesday afternoon. The Boston area is expected to get 8 to 14 inches of snow.
In Narragansett, Rhode Island, high winds knocked down a state-owned wind turbine. In New York City, two homes under construction collapsed near the waterfront in Far Rockaway. No injuries were reported.
And two ponies broke free from their stables and roamed the snow-covered streets of Staten Island until an off-duty police officer noticed them. Employing straps normally used to tow cars, he wrangled the animals and tied them to a lamppost. They were taken back to the stables.
"We want to thank our cowboy officer," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Farther south in the nation's capital, where the National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to start Wednesday, one to three inches fell around the District. But with temperatures dropping overnight, icy roads and sidewalks could pose a threat.
The federal government announced a three-hour delayed arrival for non-emergency employees, with an option to take the day off or telecommute. Emergency employees were told to report on time unless otherwise directed.
"Good day to make brownies ... and or read a book," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, which was expecting up to 2 feet of snow in some areas.
Connecticut had a statewide travel ban in effect early Tuesday morning and more than 1,300 business and schools closed.
In Chicago, the forecast called for several inches of snow, the city's first significant snowfall since mid-December.
Bank teller Jana White said her plans for riding out the storm included "lots of hot chocolate and a couple of sappy movies."
"It's a reminder that winter is always ready to take shot at you, so you have to stay prepared," the Trenton, New Jersey resident said. "We've got food and snacks and drinks, so as long as the power stays on we should be in good shape."
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said that approximately 700 National Guard members would be deployed, along with more than 2,000 snow plows to keep up with the storm.
The storm also changed plans for some teams competing in the NCAA tournament: Villanova, the top overall seed in the men's tournament, left Philadelphia early to get ahead of the storm.
The nor'easter comes a week after the region saw temperatures climb into the 60s. Spring officially starts on March 20.