WASHINGTON (AP) - An unpredictable winter storm that buried parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions with snow but barely laid a glove on Washington was bound early Thursday for New England, where it was expected to bring strong winds, more snow and the possibility of coastal flooding.
The storm marched into the Mid-Atlantic region Wednesday, dumping nearly two feet of snow in some places and knocking out power to about 250,000 homes and businesses. It largely spared the nation's capital, which was expecting much worse and had all but shut down.
Officials in Washington didn't want a repeat of 2011, when a rush-hour snowstorm stranded commuters for hours, so they told people to stay off the roads and gave workers the day off.
The storm's no-show in Washington came after it pummeled the nation's midsection Tuesday, killing at least four people in weather-related traffic accidents. More than 1,100 flights were cancelled Tuesday at Chicago's two airports alone, and hundreds more were cancelled Wednesday in Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
As the storm moved up the coast Wednesday night, it brought heavy winds to the Jersey Shore, still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, and had New England residents bracing for a potentially more powerful punch.
The National Weather Service was predicting up to 7 inches of heavy, wet snow in southeastern Connecticut through Friday morning and wind gusts that could hit 50 mph, bringing possible power outages. A coastal flood warning was in effect starting Thursday morning for east-facing shores in Massachusetts, with up to a 3-foot surge at high tide in some areas. Central Massachusetts was bracing for 4 to 8 inches of snow, while early predictions were that Boston would get less.
In Washington, where as much as 10 inches had been forecast, the storm did little but drop harmless snowflakes that rapidly melted amid warmer-than-expected temperatures. Federal offices in the region were to reopen Thursday.
"They just say that it might snow and the whole city shuts down," said Sheri Sable, who was out walking her two dogs in light rain and marveled at how even the dog park she frequents failed to open at 7 a.m.
There were bigger problems elsewhere in the region, though.
In Maryland, the U.S. Coast Guard planned to resume searching for a distressed fishing boat that was lost in rough seas with two men on board. The Coast Guard said the 67-foot boat became disabled 15 miles east of Assateague Island on Wednesday. A sister ship had been towing the disabled boat, but lost its grip. The situation unfolded in 12-to-14 foot waves. The Coast Guard found a third man on life raft and was able to rescue him.
On the Jersey Shore, winds raked the beachfront in Point Pleasant Beach, blowing drifts of sand onto Ocean Avenue, and shredding the decorative entrance canopy at a hotel across the street from the beach.
Lashing winds also blew off part of the roof of a Stone Harbor, N.J., condominium complex and Ocean City officials advised residents to move their cars to higher ground in preparation of possible flooding. Maryland's Bay Bridge, which connects Maryland's Eastern shore with the Baltimore-Washington region, was temporarily closed in both directions, because of wind gusts of up to 60 mph.
"The travel on the bridge was extremely scary," interior designer Kelly Kiley said after a tractor trailer overturned and leaned against a guardrail. "The crosswinds were terrible. Some of the taller box trucks were swaying."
In North Carolina, state officials said high winds led to sound side flooding along N.C. 12 and brought the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry run to a halt.
In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency and about 50 National Guard soldiers were sent out to help clear roads. Up to 20 inches of snow piled up in central and western parts of the state. More than 200,000 people in Virginia alone lost power and another 40,000 in New Jersey were left in the dark. Hundreds of wrecks were reported around the region.
The storm dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of neighboring West Virginia, closing schools in more than half the state and leaving more than 20,000 customers without power.
In Pennsylvania and Ohio, many areas had 4 to 6 inches of snow. The weather service issued a winter storm warning for the Philadelphia area and parts of central Pennsylvania through Thursday morning.
Downtown Washington was unusually quiet Wednesday. Officials eager to avoid a repeat of 2011 pre-emptively shut down federal offices and canceled public schools. Non-emergency federal employees were treated to a paid snow day for the number of hours they were scheduled to work.
Some congressional hearings were postponed, but the House of Representatives managed to approve legislation to prevent a government shutdown on March 27 and President Barack Obama had dinner with GOP senators at a hotel Wednesday night.
The storm has led to at least four deaths. A semi-trailer slid off a snow-covered interstate in western Wisconsin, killing two people. A central Indiana woman died when a semi-trailer plowed into her car after she lost control merging onto the highway, and a man from Columbia City in northeast Indiana was killed when his snowmobile left the road, headed across a field and crashed into a wire fence.