WASHINGTON - The U.S. Northeast was hit by its second major winter storm of the season, which was expected to dump up to a foot (30 cm) of snow on New York City by Wednesday evening and create chaos for commuters and travelers.
Airlines pre-emptively canceled hundreds of flights and companies were advising some employees to work from home, while oil prices jumped 2 percent on expectations the cold weather would boost demand for heating oil.
The storm could give New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg a chance to make up for his much-criticized response to the blizzard that paralyzed New York less than two weeks ago.
He declared a weather emergency late Tuesday that urged the public to avoid driving, granted authorities the right to tow cars blocking snow plows and allowed emergency services to "take all appropriate and necessary steps" to ensure safety.
"We didn't do the job that New Yorkers rightly expect of us in the last storm and we intend to make sure that that does not happen again," Bloomberg told a news conference.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, with forecasters predicting 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) of snow in New York starting on Tuesday evening and continuing through Wednesday afternoon. It predicted 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) in Boston and 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) in Philadelphia.
Wind gusts from the northwest of up to 25 miles per hour (40 kph) throughout the region were expected to cause blowing and drifting snow and sharply reduce visibility.
The previous storm -- the sixth largest in city history -- dumped 20 inches (50 cm) on New York's Central Park over 17 hours on Dec. 26 and 27.
National Weather Service forecaster Michael Eckert said that while this storm will not be as strong and widespread, "for a major metropolitan area, this is still a lot of snow and will cause some disruption."
By 4:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday (0900 GMT), around 6 inches (15 cm) of snow had fallen in and around New York City, the NWS reported on its website (http://www.weather.gov/).
Continental Airlines said it had canceled 244 flights, mainly from its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, for Tuesday evening. JetBlue said it has canceled 109 flights for Tuesday night and 137 Wednesday across the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic region.
American Airlines had so far canceled 350 flights at airports between Boston and Washington overnight and into Wednesday morning. American Airlines spokesman Ed Martelle said the airline does not expect any international cancellations.
The New York Stock Exchange expects to be open for business as usual on Wednesday. Financial markets were likely to be largely unaffected by the storm, though trading volume could take a small hit, traders said. The last storm occurred in the traditionally light-volume holiday period.
"For the most part, we've become a mobile and remote-access business," said Joseph Greco, managing director at Meridian Equity Partners in New York. "Investors can get in pretty easily and feel secure trading online."
The storm began a day after the New York City Council held hearings on the city's snow response and Bloomberg issued a 15-point action plan aimed at correcting the mistakes.
In the previous storm, 600 buses got stuck in the snow, and ambulances were unable to get through. Entire neighborhoods were cut off for days.
Bloomberg said on Tuesday the city had 365 salt spreaders and 1,700 plows ready to tackle the storm, with sanitation crews on hand to work 12-hour shifts.
Snow and ice carpeted much of the U.S. South on Monday, killing at least three people in traffic accidents, cutting off power to thousands and closing countless roads.
Winter storm warnings or weather advisories were also in effect throughout much of the Northeast, Midwest, central and northern Appalachian and lower Great Lakes regions. Frigid conditions were expected to persist until the weekend, keeping travel conditions hazardous in many places.
Unusually, there was snow or ice on the ground in every state except Florida. (Reporting by Kristina Cooke and Ryan Vlastelica in New York; Additional reporting by Eric Walsh in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff)
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