Massive east coast storm

Packing high winds, low temperatures and the punch of a double-barreled storm system, the Blizzard of ’03 roared up the Eastern Seaboard on Monday, closing airports, paralyzing highways and dumping nearly two feet of snow or more on cities from Washington to Boston.

The impact of the storm, the worst to hit the East Coast since 1996, was blunted because many schools, businesses and government offices were closed for the Presidents’ Day holiday.

From the streets of the nation’s capital to the canyons of Manhattan, children broke out sleds, adults snapped on cross-country skis and dogs frolicked in snowdrifts.

“We had planned to go to Canada over the holiday, but we may skip it now,” said Lewis Antine, strapping on snowshoes at the edge of New York’s Central Park.

“WHITEOUT” screamed the front page of the New York Post, which regaled readers with details of “A BURY, BURY BIG SNOWSTORM.” In a bow to the brute force of the storm, the Daily News front page blared: “SNOW BELT.”

Blinding snow, driven by winds up to 40 mph obscured the giant video screens mounted in Times Square and made on-the-scene TV reporters suddenly vanish behind swirling veils of snow.

The storm caused plenty of problems, including highway accidents, stranded travelers and power outages.

Weather-related deaths included two in Illinois, one in Nebraska, six in West Virginia, six in Missouri, four in Iowa, one in Ohio and one in New Jersey.

Originating in the West and joining forces with a coastal Nor’Easter, the storm at one point muscled its way across a swath stretching from the Midwest to the East Coast.

With most major East Coast airports either closed or operating marginally Monday and Amtrak canceling one-quarter of its trains, thousands of travelers around the country found themselves going nowhere.

New York Gov. George Pataki declared a state of emergency in the New York metropolitan area and several eastern upstate counties, a move that releases state and federal funds to help pay clean-up costs.

“It’s very pretty. It is also very inconvenient and very expensive, but we’re dealing with it,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. With every inch of snowfall estimated to cost the city $1 million, the final bill may total at least $20 million, he said.

The storm has a chance of surpassing the 20.2 inches that fell in the January 1996 storm and even has a shot at taking the top slot from the December 1947 storm that dropped 26 inches.

Snow was expected to continue falling in New York into the night.

In Washington, steady snow fell until shortly before noon on Monday, making streets fit only for pedestrians, cross-country skiers and sport utility vehicles.