Massive storm's parting shot: Huge pileup on Pennsylvania Turnpike

The winter storm that churned up the East Coast was blamed for at least 21 deaths. In its wake, multi-vehicle crashes injured 30 and clogged the Pennsylvania Turnpike for hours on Friday.

Matt Rourke/AP
Vehicles are piled up in an accident Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Bensalem, Pa. Traffic accidents involving multiple tractor trailers and dozens of cars have completely blocked one side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike outside Philadelphia and caused some injuries.

The behemoth of a snowstorm that motored up the East Coast on Thursday left misery and a monstrous mess in its wake: at least 21 deaths, thousands of flights cancelled, a peak of hundreds of thousands of homes without power Thursday evening, and millions of Northeastern urbanites weary of slogging through slush-clogged city streets.

It still had plenty of bite on Friday. Even as the back end of the storm whipped its last few flakes through far northern New England, motorists outside Philadelphia were caught in a miles- and hours-long traffic jam on the Pennsylvania Turnpike created by two separate multiple-vehicle crashes on the ice slickened roads. At least 30 people reportedly were injured, five seriously, in the rush-hour crashes, in which dozens of vehicles were involved.

The storm rampaged up the coast – doing a job in the southeastern US on Wednesday before heading north – just one week after another storm had taken a similar path in a winter season flush with snowstorms.

"Welcome to winter storm six of the last six weeks,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took heat for keeping schools open despite the weather, told reporters at a Thursday press conference.

The National Weather Service used unusually dire language to describe the huge storm, calling it “an event of historical proportions” that would bring “crippling snow and ice accumulations.”

Most of the deaths attributed to the storm involved crashes. In one incident, though, a pregnant woman in a supermarket parking lot in Brooklyn was struck and killed by a privately owned snowplow as she loaded groceries into her car. Her baby was delivered via cesarean section and survived, but was in critical condition at a New York hospital Thursday night.

Some 6,500 flights were cancelled in the US as of 8 p.m. Thursday night, according to, CNN reported. At about 11 a.m. on Friday, that number had fallen to about 1,300 flights, with another 1,700 delayed, according to Flightaware.

On the ground, Amtrak cancelled some of its service in the Northeast, South and mid-Atlantic regions Thursday, and some bus services were running with reduced schedules. Officials also closed sections of highways all along the East Coast Thursday, as reports tumbled in of numerous accidents. Among them, New York’s Transportation Department closed Interstate 84 to commercial traffic, prompting worries about Valentine’s Day deliveries.

Some 625,000 people were without power in 16 states and the District of Columbia Thursday night, CNN reported. Friday morning, that number had fallen to around half a million, mostly in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, according to The New York Times.

The storm hit some states with snow, some with heavy rain, and others with an unhappy, sloshy mix. Inland regions of the mid-Atlantic were heaped with snow. In Pennsylvania, three locations reported more than 20 inches of snowfall, says Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. There were also reports of between 14 and 16 inches of snow in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with an average of around 8 to 12 inches of snow throughout the mid-Atlantic, he says.

In coastal regions, where temperatures flirted with the freezing mark, the precipitation flipped between snow, sleet, and plain rain.

In Boston, whirling snow glossed the city, creating a whitewashed fairy-world in the afternoon. But that gave way to hours of rain that turned Beantown into a soupy bog hued in greys and mud-browns.

New York was dealt a similar but harsher hand, getting some 10 inches of snow before a bout of sleet and rain whipped its streets into mushy messes. Schools were closed across the East Thursday, but not in New York, a decision that Mayor de Blasio was pressed to defend at the afternoon news conference, saying the National Weather Service had under-predicted the storm’s scale.

Both his decision and comments defending it were widely derided on social media, including in an irate series of tweets on NBC weatherman Al Roker’s feed. "And how about all the parents and caregivers who have to scramble to get their kids home? Is there no one there with any common sense?,” he tweeted.

“Long range DiBlasio forecast: 1 term,” he said, in a tweet just afterward.

Though the storm is now exiting the US, another smaller one is hard on its heals, says the National Weather Service's Mr. Vaccaro. It's expected to first dust the Midwest on Friday and then bring a “quick shot of snow” into the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states overnight Friday and Saturday. 

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.