ALBANY, N.Y. – A powerful winter storm dumped a foot or more of snow in the Northeast on Wednesday, knocking out power to thousands and stalling air traffic from Boston to Philadelphia, all ahead of a second system packing strong winds that could blanket the area with another foot of snow.
The storm cut a swath from eastern Pennsylvania into northern New England, slamming typically snowy regions that had been spared the paralyzing storms that hit cities farther south earlier this winter. About 150,000 customers lost power Wednesday, hundreds of schools were closed and at least three traffic deaths were blamed on the storm.
An 89-year-old woman died in a crash in New York's Hudson Valley. In Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, a woman and a boy died when their vehicle slid off snow- and ice-covered Interstate 80; The man driving the car was not expected to survive.
The system was the first of a 1-2 winter punch. Another storm forecast to hit Thursday is expected to pack winds of up to 50 mph, which could cause more power outages, and dump a foot or more of snow on some areas by Friday. Meteorologists said some areas of New York's Adirondack and Catskill mountains and Vermont's Green Mountains could get as much as 2 feet by the weekend.
Philadelphia, which has had its snowiest winter with more than 70 inches and is still digging out from earlier back-to-back storms, could see as much as a foot of snow.
"It might not be until early next week that we get rid of the storm completely," said meteorologist Hugh Johnson of the National Weather Service's Albany office.
A description of the coming storm as a "snowicane" by State College, Pa.-based Accuweather Inc. touched off criticism — one newspaper called it a "smackdown" — by the National Weather Service.
On Tuesday, 48 hours before the storm was to hit, Accuweather called it "hurricane-like," a "monster," and a "powerful storm of historical proportions" that would wreak havoc from Pennsylvania to Maine and by Wednesday was using the term "snowicane."
That prompted a stern response from National Weather Service meteorologist Craig Evanego.
"It's almost inciting the public, inciting panic," he said.
The Weather Channel called the hurricane talk "bad meteorology."
Accuweather senior meteorologist and director of forecasting operations Ken Reeves called the NWS criticism "unfounded" and said there is nothing wrong in using language that gets people's attention when the situation calls for it.
The northern edge of Wednesday's storm reached into the Massachusetts' Berkshires, Vermont and New Hampshire, dumping more than a foot of snow in some areas and prompting flooding concerns in Maine.
The hardest hit area Wednesday was Albany, N.Y., where some outlying areas had about 2 feet of snow by afternoon. The snow was so thick and heavy that even pickup trucks got stuck trying to plow it out.
"We tried the snowblower and it didn't work. It keeps clogging up," said Pat McDonough as she shoveled her front walk in Voorheesville, a village just west of Albany.
While parts of the Northeast dealt with Wednesday's weather, other cities were preparing for another blast of winter.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was making sure building owners were aware of the predicted high winds and were taking steps to tie down anything that could come loose.
"My hope is that the snow will stay to the north and west of us and we'll just have rain — our kids need another school day," Bloomberg said. "We will cancel school only if it really would be dangerous to get the kids into school and get them home."
In Pennsylvania, State Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler is urging motorists to avoid unnecessary travel in a storm forecast to bring snow and gusty winds.
The system expected to create the storm that will travel up the Atlantic Coast was causing problems in the South on Wednesday. The weather service issued a winter storm warning through Friday morning for mountainous areas of western North Carolina, where forecasters said up to 10 inches was possible by Thursday evening.
Wednesday's Northeast storm ended a long stretch without a major snowfall in eastern New York and northern New England. The region had avoided much of the severe weather that slammed the mid-Atlantic in recent weeks.
Some New England areas had been forced to cancel winter festivals, dog sled races and snow sculpting events this year due to the lack of any snow at all. At Vermont's Mad River Glen ski area, the storm "was a godsend," spokesman Eric Friedman said.
"Thank God Mother Nature was listening," he said.
New York's power outages stood at 117,000 Wednesday afternoon, down from 135,000 earlier in the day. Most are in the Hudson Valley. Another 32,000 were reported in Vermont and western Massachusetts. Schools were closed around eastern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts.
Contractor Jim Conde spent the morning plowing eight private roads outside Albany, getting stuck several times in the deep, compressed snow. With more on the way, he was likely to stay busy.
"That's what scares me the most," he said. "If we do get more, where are we going to put it?"
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