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East Coast Hunkers Down for 'March Monster' Storm


NEW YORK — A powerful snowstorm walloped the Northeast on Monday--canceling hundreds of airline flights, closing schools from Maine to Maryland, snarling interstate traffic and threatening to dump more than 24 inches of snow over the region before it finally blows out to sea. The worst snowfall was expected to hit southern New England in the late evening.

In New York state, more than 3 million students in public and private schools stayed home, and U.S. mail pickups were suspended for 48 hours. In Boston, universities closed and small towns from Gloucester to Plymouth braced for coastal flooding.

"This is a very, very large storm over the area," said meteorologist Butch Roberts. "By the time it's through, we expect it to produce some pretty horrific wintertime conditions."

Exactly how much snow would fall was not clear: While the Big Apple could get 3 to 6 inches by this morning, forecasters suggested that northern New England and areas west of Boston might get 30 inches or more. By midmorning, Binghamton and other New York cities had 13 inches on the ground, with snow continuing to fall steadily through the afternoon.

Thousands of snow-removal crews were mobilized as evening approached. Power crews also were poised for action because the snowfall is expected to be wet and heavy--the kind that can gather rapidly on electrical lines and cause sudden power outages. Motorists were urged to stay off the roads if at all possible after the evening commute.

Meanwhile, officials with American Airlines, TWA, Continental, United Airlines, Delta and other carriers canceled hundreds of flights out of JFK, Newark, LaGuardia and Boston's Logan international airports. Those cancellations, in turn, wreaked havoc with flight schedules across the nation.

Public officials went into contingency overdrive, going as far as to postpone elections today in some New England towns.

But many residents grew skeptical as the day wore on and the blizzard failed to materialize. For millions, the approaching storm--dubbed "the March monster" by some newspapers--presented the delights and headaches of an unexpected day off.

"I'm shopping, I've actually got time to shop," exulted Mary Jordan, a New York legal secretary whose office told her not to come to work--even though little snow fell and the morning rush hour was merely wet and slushy.

"This has become a city of wimps," groused former New York high school teacher Don Passinkoff, noting that public school officials declared a snow emergency on a day when children could easily have gone to and from school. "When you suddenly tell millions of working parents they've got to stay home with their kids, it's an enormous problem for them."

As she shopped in Murray's Sturgeon King shop on Manhattan's Upper West Side, architect Deborah Young marveled at the empty store. The day before, hordes of customers had emptied it of bagels, whitefish, lox and chopped liver. "It was all because of the storm," she joked. "But what storm? Do you see a storm? Tell me where the storm is."

Forecasters stuck to their guns Monday, insisting that the huge nor'easter descending on the region would create blizzard-like conditions, at least in some areas. The massive system was triggered by the freakish convergence of a wet, wind-driven storm churning up the Eastern Seaboard and an equally vigorous mass of cold air barreling down from eastern Canada.

Confusion spread, however, when the 2 feet of snow that New York and other cities were expected to get by Sunday evening never materialized. Meteorologists explained that a mass of warm air pushed the snow track to the west, allowing metropolitan areas from Washington to Boston to escape the brunt of the snow that had fallen so far. But Monday, with temperatures plunging into the 20s and freezing rain, the stage was set for heavy snow.

As they hunkered down for a potentially long night, many New Englanders said this storm might rival historic blizzards that socked the region in 1969 and 1978.

"Sandbags aren't going to help a bit in this case. If this storm comes, it's going to come," said emergency official Mark Zartarian in the shore town of Rye, N.H. "If it's anything like '78, it's going to lift and move boulders the size of your car."


Getlin reported from New York and Mehren from Boston.

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