WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A weekend nor'easter buried much of the U.S. East Coast on Saturday and Sunday, disrupting public transport and air travel and hampering holiday shoppers on the last weekend before Christmas.
Up to 22 inches of snow was expected by Saturday night in the Baltimore-Washington area, more than any snowstorm to hit the region since February 2003, as the storm system moved north into New York and New England.
With snow falling at a rate of two inches an hour, most flights were canceled at the three major Washington-area airports before two of them, Reagan and BWI, were closed until Sunday morning. Delays and cancellations also hit Philadelphia's international airport.
The driving snowstorm did not stop U.S. senators from convening and Democrats secured the pivotal 60th vote of holdout Senator Ben Nelson needed to ensure passage of the healthcare overhaul bill by Christmas.
But the storm could take a big bite out of retail sales on one of the busiest shopping weekend of the year.
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty declared a snow emergency and asked District of Columbia residents to keep off the streets as the U.S. capital faced what one TV station dubbed "The Shopper Stopper Storm."
Washington closed above-ground operations of its Metrorail subway and stopped all bus services by early afternoon because streets were rapidly becoming impassable.
Even NFL football was hit by the storm. It was not clear if the Chicago Bears, whose Friday night charter flight was canceled because of the snow, would make it to Baltimore for Sunday's game against the Ravens.
The storm began unleashing its full fury during New York's evening hours, which came as a relief to retailers counting on Saturday shoppers to turn out with less than a week before Christmas.
The storm was expected to taper off to snow showers later Sunday morning, with accumulations of about a foot in the city's five boroughs, and up to two feet on eastern Long Island, where blizzard conditions prevailed.
A severe storm warning remained in effect until late Sunday morning.
All three metropolitan airports remained opened and reported only minor delays, but airlines canceled hundreds of flights and few flights actually departed.
Amtrak trains experienced significant delays with seats at a premium as holiday travelers sought alternatives when air travel was severely disrupted.
Subways remained running but officials warned riders they could experience delays.
Officials were due to inform the public of the storm's full impact a
and their plans for coping at a news conference on Sunday morning.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Boston, owing to powerful winds and a heavy snowfall of one to two inches an hour.
Trains were also affected by the snow. Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham said trains along the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington were delayed by 30 to 60 minutes. There was a two- to three-hour delay on long-distance trains.
A state of emergency was declared by the governors of Virginia and Maryland and the states' National Guard services were called to respond to the storm.
Motorists across the region were urged to stay off treacherous roads and several main arteries were closed. In Washington, D.C., drivers who ventured out often had to abandon their cars due to deep snow on streets.
At least one person died in the storm. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management said a 68-year-old woman died in a car crash in southern Virginia on Friday night.
Rains from powerful Atlantic storms caused heavy flooding in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina earlier this week.