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Cruel winter's latest insult bears down on East

People walk in the snow Feb. 25, 2010, in Lakewood, N.J.
People walk in the snow Feb. 25, 2010, in Lakewood, N.J.
Mel Evans, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The effects of a winter storm began piling up Thursday in the Northeast even before much snow did, as airlines canceled hundreds of flights, schools closed and officials prepared to shut down major roads if needed.

The storm was expected to dump at least 8 inches of wet, heavy snow and bring high winds over a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to New York City to Albany, N.Y., canceling flights and creating a danger of toppled power lines.

Winter storm warnings stretched into Ohio and along much of the Appalachian Mountains, with snow and wind expected as far south as the Tennessee-North Carolina line. The National Weather Service said Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, about 80 miles north Philadelphia, and northwestern New Jersey could get up to 18 inches.

In Allentown, Pa., in the Lehigh Valley, 52-year-old Jim Yourgal put on knee-high snow boats and trudged three miles to his job as a valet at an orthopedic center. He figured he wouldn't be driving home in a foot of snow. His dedication was no big deal, he said.

"What else am I going to do, read a book at home? I can do that on the weekend," he said.

The latest snow comes just as Philadelphia and New Jersey have finally cleaned up from a pair of blizzards more than two weeks ago that deposited more than 3 feet of snow.

For Albany, the storm comes only a day after one Wednesday left 2 feet of wet, heavy snow that clogged snowblowers and stranded pickup trucks trying to plow it out. About 150,000 customers lost power, hundreds of schools were closed and at least three traffic deaths were blamed on the storm.

By Thursday morning, 60,000 homes and businesses in eastern New York were still without power. The hardest-hit areas were in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. Another 18,000 customers in Vermont still lacked power.

In the snow-weary Philadelphia region, where a seasonal record of more than 70 inches has fallen already since December, most of it in three major storms, there was some denial about the possibility of another whopper.

Scott Bogina of Haddonfield, N.J., was gassing up his car across the Delaware River in Pennsauken, N.J., a little after 5 a.m. and held his hands and watched rain, not snow, land on his gloves.

"I don't see anything yet. I hope it stays like this. I like snow, but it's starting to be a little much," he said.

Not long after that, the precipitation turned to snow.

Philadelphia's public and parochial schools were canceled for the day, as were scores of suburban districts. Some were holding out but anticipating early dismissals as the snow picked up later in the day.

The speed limit on New Jersey's Atlantic City Expressway was reduced to 35 mph and transportation officials in Pennsylvania said they would close interstates in eastern Pennsylvania if conditions got bad enough.

New Jersey Transit began its morning rush hour allowing riders to use bus tickets on its commuter trains.

Forecasts called for Thursday's storm to hit much of the East and into the Midwest. The Cleveland area could get 15 inches of snow — enough to close in on but not break the February record there of 39 inches.

New York City was expected to get a mixture of rain and snow through the day, with it turning to all snow in the evening. Up to 10 inches was expected by Friday morning.

Anthony Thomas, who repairs cables for Verizon, maintained a sunny outlook — and a sense of humor — as he headed to work on Manhattan's west side, where snow was falling by 8 a.m. but not sticking.

"We're not going to have a drought," Thomas said, laughing. "Cold is good for killing the germs."

Airlines were telling passengers to call ahead, as hundreds of flights from airports in the Northeast were scratched with threats that the storm would worsen. Airports in the New York City area and Philadelphia reported cancelations.

Philadelphia airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said 15 to 20 percent of flights there were delayed or canceled by 8 a.m. with wind as the big risk, she said, noting that crews weren't worried about clearing the snow.

"We've had good practice," she said.

Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa., Randy Pennell in Philadelphia, Shawn Marsh in Trenton, N.J., and Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City contributed to this report.