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Snowstorm gives north-eastern US 'a kick in the rear'

A late-season storm plastered the north-eastern US with sleet and snow, paralysing much of the Washington-to-Boston corridor.

The powerful nor'easter fell well short of forecasters' snow predictions in New York and Philadelphia but unloaded 1-2ft in places mostly inland, grounded more than 6,000 flights, and knocked out power to nearly a quarter of a million customers from Virginia northward.

By the time it reached Massachusetts, it had turned into a blizzard, with near hurricane-force wind gusting over 70mph along the coast and waves crashing over the seawalls. Up to a foot of snow was expected in the Boston area.

It was easily the biggest storm in a winter that had mostly spared the north-east.

"It's horrible," said Don Zimmerman, of Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, using a snowblower to clear the pavement. "I thought winter was out of here. ... It's a real kick in the rear."

While people mostly heeded dire warnings to stay home and 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.

The storm closed schools in cities big and small, Amtrak suspended services and the post office halted deliveries.

Philadelphia and New York City escaped the brunt of the snow, getting just a few inches and not the foot or more forecasters had expected before the storm switched over mostly to sleet.

In New Jersey, which saw rain or just a little snow in many areas, Governor Chris Christie called the storm an "underperformer".

Inland areas, meanwhile, got hit hard. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Worcester, Massachusetts, received a foot or more of snow. The Binghamton, New York, area was hit with over 2ft, while Vernon, New Jersey, got at least 19 inches.

The storm came just days after the region saw temperatures climb into the 60s, and less than a week before the official start of spring. February, too, was remarkably warm.

In the nation's capital, non-essential federal employees were given the option of reporting three hours late, taking the day off or working from home. The city got less than 2 inches of snow.

As the storm closed in, the National Weather Service used terms like "life-threatening" and urged people to "shelter in place," language that has come to be associated with mass shootings. In the end, the line between snow and rain shifted slightly to the west, sparing some of the Northeast's big cities.

Government meteorologists realised by late Monday afternoon that there was a good chance the storm was not going to produce the giant big-city snow totals predicted. But they did not change their forecast for fear people would mistakenly think the storm was no longer dangerous, said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the Weather Prediction Centre.

AP

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