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(CNN) — New England faced an old enemy Tuesday: Mother Nature.
She brought a blizzard with her, one that is hardly unprecedented for this often weather-weary region. While the storm didn’t pummel places like New York and New Jersey as much as feared, others remained very much in the thick of it Tuesday morning.
Residents of Barnstable on Cape Cod, for instance, had drifts of up to 3 feet and whiteout conditions, said police Sgt. Mark Cabral. At 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported that Framingham, Massachusetts, had 30 inches of snow, with more than 18 inches having fallen about 20 miles east in Boston.
It’s not just Massachusetts, with nearly 16 inches reported in Portland, Maine; over 21 inches in Hudson, New Hampshire; and 28.5 inches in Orient on New York’s Long Island.
And, in some of these places, the end still isn’t in sight.
That’s particularly true for coastal areas now coping with early morning flooding, heavy snows and potent winds, while bracing for a new high tide — and the storm surge expected with it — around 5 p.m.
Nantucket and its 15,000 residents “lost power to the entire island,” said police Chief William Pittman, a situation he attributed to sustained winds of roughly 50 mph, punctuated by gusts of around 80 mph.
On Massachusetts’ South Shore, the ocean roared inland to flood the Brant Rock Esplanade lined with homes and businesses. The town’s police posted a photo of one portion of a seawall ripped up by the storm, while authorities in neighboring Duxbury showed a deck blown yards away from a home. And not far away in Scituate, slushy ice, seawater and debris clogged streets.
The good news? Most people seemed to have heeded the warnings about a storm forecast as “crippling” and “potentially historic” by stocking up and staying inside. If you go through this every year, after all, there’s a good chance you’ll know the drill.
“During these storms, everybody has to hunker down and just be safe,” said Bob Connors from Plum Island, on Massachusetts’ North Shore. “We’ve become pretty proficient at that.”
N.Y. mayor: ‘We’ve dodged the bullet’
While residents of Rhode Island and Massachusetts battled Tuesday’s storm, others in the Northeast — like New York and New Jersey — were breathing a sigh of relief.
Compare that with a day earlier, when they’d be more likely to be hyperventilating, given the all but cataclysmic warnings about the coming storm.
They were told it could turn 58 million people’s lives upside down. Seven states, from New Jersey to New Hampshire, declared states of emergency. School was called off for not just Tuesday but Wednesday as well. Public transit shut down. Businesses closed, suggesting a far-reaching economic impact in one of America’s busiest commercial regions.
Yet by mid-morning, snow wasn’t even falling in New York City. By then, travel bans in New Jersey and New York — even places like Long Island’s Islip, which got more than 20 inches of snow — had been lifted, as some restrictions remained in effect in neighboring Connecticut.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called all the warning and preparations “a better safe than sorry scenario.”
“We’ve dodged the bullet,” he told CNN. “This is nothing like we feared it would be.”
Blocked in, hunkered down
The forecast even improved for Boston. Once expected to see up to 30 inches of snow, the Massachusetts capital and surrounding areas should now get 15 to 25 inches, according to forecasters.
Still, 2 feet of snow isn’t anything to scoff at.
Just ask all those who had their cars snowed in, their front doors blocked and their backyards littered with branches Tuesday.
“The worst part is the steady winds, I think they were approaching 50 mph,” said Pittman, Nantucket’s police chief.
In Marshfield, Massachusetts, there’s concern that the seawall breach could allow water into homes and businesses near the coast.
“If you don’t have that line of defense, then you could have severe damage and homes that will fall into the ocean,” said Jim Cantwell, a state representative for that town and neighboring Scituate. “Without the seawall, you’d have tremendous erosion.”
Even New Englanders who live more inland aren’t out of the woods yet.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, for instance, noted Tuesday morning that the “snow is getting heavier” in some areas. Hours later, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said whiteout conditions persisted in some places.
Whenever the snowfall is over, the hard work won’t be. There’s a lot of digging out to do, to get everything back to normal.
“We don’t have an option,” Segarra said. “When it snows, we have to clear the streets.”
Thousands of flights canceled
And if you’re trying to escape this wintry mess by air, forget about it.
Nearly 4,700 flights in and out of the United States had already been canceled as of 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, the flight-tracking website Flightaware.com reported. That’s on top of 2,800 scrubbed Monday. Hundreds more have already been called off for Wednesday.
The hardest-hit airports were in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Boston’s Logan International Airport won’t reopen until Wednesday.
The major U.S. airlines are offering fee-free rebooking of flights to and from the Northeast through Tuesday.
For some travelers, it was touch and go. Ricardo Canadinhas looked through an ice-coated window on his Virgin Atlantic flight before takeoff. He could barely see. “#isthissafe,” he tweeted.
Amtrak said it was suspending Northeast Regional and Acela Express services between New York and Boston for Tuesday because of the weather.
Other Amtrak train routes in the region will operate at reduced frequencies, the rail line said.
From stocking up to snowball fights
The storm warnings seemed to impress even the most jaded Northeasterner, as groceries flew off store shelves from Brooklyn to Bangor.
Michelle Thompson, a professor who lives in New York, found little left at a Greenwich Village grocery store.
“These are the sorts of supplies New Yorkers need,” she said, gazing at the empty shelves. “Apparently, fresh bread is imperative as well eggs. Don’t forget the dried pasta and sauce!”
It was the same story at the Star Market, where Rafi Menachem shops in Boston. While his wife, a doctor, was stuck at work at Boston Medical Center, he was trying to hold down the fort.
“A majority of the produce, deli meats, eggs, milk and bread were all gone,” he said.
Still, it’s not like everyone was shaking in their snow boots.
As Steve Nogueira, a retired meteorologist who lives in Taunton, Massachusetts, said, “We’re New Englanders,” We’ve done it before.”
And the coastal city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, could soon be shaking for a different reason. Hundreds have accepted an invitation, via Facebook, to a massive community snowball fight — one that organizer Devin Murphy joked is in the proud tradition dating back to around 1624, when the city was first settled.
Murphy said parents have asked if their kids are welcome. They are, he said, and the snow should be light and less dangerous. Some of the bars in the small, close-knit New England community will be open to cater to the snowball fight warriors. Murphy called the response tremendous, especially compared with what he got the last two times he tried to organize such an event.
“At this point, it’s just going to be fun,” he said.