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Winter storm hits US East Coast

A howling blizzard dumped more than a foot of snow on Boston as its neighbour New York City slowly blinked back to life after escaping the worst of the weather.

In New England, the storm was a bitter, paralysing blast. At least 2 feet (about half a meter) of snow was expected in most of Massachusetts, potentially making it one of the top snowstorms of all time there.

Forecasters originally warned the storm could bring up to 3 feet (about a meter) of snow and punishing hurricane-force winds. But early today, they downgraded most of those numbers, saying Boston and the north-eastern New England region would fare the worst, but even then not as bad as expected.

As of midmorning, the Boston area had more than a foot (30 centimetres) of snow, while the far eastern tip of New York's suburban Long Island had more than 2 feet (about half a meter). Snowplough operators around New England struggled to keep up, and Boston police drove several dozen doctors and nurses to work at hospitals.

The National Weather Service said a 78mph (125kph) gust was reported on Nantucket, and a 72mph (115kph) one on Martha's Vineyard.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his statewide ban on travel as "absolutely the right decision to make" in light of the dire forecast.

As the storm pushed into the north east, the region came to a near standstill, alarmed by forecasters' predictions. More than 7,700 flights were cancelled, and schools, businesses and government offices closed.

As dawn broke, New York City had an almost eerie feel to it. No planes in the sky and no trains running underground made for an unexpected quiet. A few municipal trucks rumbled down empty streets.

But as the storm pushed northward, it tracked farther east than forecasters had been expecting, and conditions improved quickly in its wake. By midmorning New Jersey and New York City lifted driving bans, and subways and trains started rolling again, with a return to a full schedule expected tomorrow.

A National Weather Service forecaster in New Jersey apologised on Twitter for the off-target forecast.

"You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't. Once again, I'm sorry," Gary Szatkowski tweeted.

New York City's snowfall was still substantial: La Guardia International Airport recorded 11 inches (28 centimetres) of snow, and Central Park was blanketed with almost 8 inches (20 centimetres).

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who drew criticism last autumn after suggesting meteorologists hadn't foreseen the severity of an epic snowstorm in Buffalo, said this time: "Weather forecasters do the best they can, and we respond based to the best information that we have."

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