NEW YORK - A record-breaking storm buried sections of the Northeast under more than 2 feet of snow on Sunday, marooning thousands of air travelers and making even a walk to the corner store treacherous.
The National Weather Service said 26.9 inches of snow had fallen in Central Park, the most for a single storm since record-keeping started in 1869. The old record was 26.4 inches in December 1947.
Wind gusting as high as 60 mph blew the snow sideways and raised a risk of coastal flooding in New England. And in a rare display, lightning lit up the falling snow before dawn in the New York and Philadelphia areas, producing muffled winter thunder.
"We might not see anything like this again in our lifetime," Jason Rosenfarb said as he walked with his 5-year-old daughter Haley in Central Park. Just then Haley jumped head first into the snow and said: "Help me out. There's too much snow."
The storm came on the heels of an unusually mild January that had people shedding jackets and ski resorts lamenting lost business.
"It's sort of crazy because it was so warm a couple of weeks ago and now we have knee-deep snow," said Skye Drynan, walking her dogs Bella and Forest in lower Manhattan.
Elsewhere, 21 inches of snow fell at Columbia, Md., between Baltimore and Washington, as well as at East Brunswick, N.J., Hartford, Conn., and West Caln Township west of Philadelphia, the National Weather Service said. Philadelphia's average for an entire winter is about 21 inches.
"It's going to be a menace trying to clean it up," said Mayor Scott T. Rumana in Wayne, N.J. New York officials said snow removal costs the city about $1 million per inch.
However, the storm's arrival during the weekend meant more people were staying at home instead of trying to drive to work.
Churches canceled services, and the Philadelphia Phantoms minor league hockey team postponed Sunday's game because the team couldn't get home from Chicago.
The possibility of coastal flooding was a major concern for Massachusetts as wind hit 60 mph, said Peter Judge, spokesman for the state's Emergency Management Agency. Meteorologists predicted 2 1/2-foot storm surges from Cape Ann to Cape Cod with seas off the coast running up to 25 feet.
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An early Valentine's Day getaway to Massachusetts turned into snowbound jail for Dave Allison and Beth Todzia of southern Connecticut.
They stood inside a Dunkin' Donuts in Boston, watching snow rip past the window and "trying to figure out how to get home," Allison said.
The storm closed all three of the New York metropolitan area's major airports, and airlines canceled more than 500 inbound and departing flights - 200 each at LaGuardia and Newark airports and 120 at Kennedy.
Delta Air Lines canceled arrivals and departures at Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn.
The airport closures and grounded planes stranded travelers elsewhere across the country. About 7,500 people were stuck just at Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, spokesman Steve Belleme said.
"We've been playing cards for two hours. We expect to play a lot more cards," Cliff Jefferson said about nine hours into his stay at the Miami airport.
Service in and out of New York's Pennsylvania Station on the Long Island Rail Road was canceled, and Metro North rail service to the northern suburbs was curtailed. New Jersey Transit suspended all bus service statewide. Amtrak reported a few cancelations and delays in the Northeast Corridor but said most trains remained in service.
More than 85,000 homes and businesses were blacked out in Maryland, according to Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. spokeswoman Linda Foy. More than 60,000 customers were reported in the dark in northern Virginia, and thousands more lost power in parts of Delaware, New Jersey and on New York's Long Island. Temperatures were mostly in the 20s.
Still, many people took the storm in stride, in spite of drifts that made sidewalks tortuous, if not impassable. Lynda Carpentero didn't let the snow keep her away from yoga class at a neighborhood gym in Brooklyn.
"We were afraid we would fall on our heads before we stood on them," Carpenter said.
Intrepid customers even insisted on going out for everyday essentials.
"I love it. It's like Christmas," said John Eaton, who went to Chubby's Deli in suburban Eastchester for his Sunday newspapers and coffee, before returning home to hunker down for the day.