A winter storm that froze the U.S. southeast in its tracks pushed north on Thursday, with driving winds and heavy snow snarling travel and closing many schools from Washington to Connecticut, creating havoc for winter-weary parents.
Hundreds of thousands of Georgia, North and South Carolina residents hit by a heavy blast of ice a day earlier remained without power as the storm made its way up the coast, closing much of Washington and threatening to drop up to 18 inches of snow in some areas.
The repeated storms are taking a toll on schools and families, as snow-related cancellations left parents scrambling to find child-care options and administrators looking at making up lost days by extending classes into the summer.
New York City Public Schools, which have taken only one snow day this year, proved a glaring exception and remained open. Jane Mills, who was walking with her 6-year-old granddaughter in Brooklyn, said it was "absolutely ridiculous" that public schools were open.
"It's a danger to the students traveling in buses or cars. It's a danger to teachers commuting," said Mills, a former teacher from Nashville, Tennessee.
About 5,771 domestic U.S. flights were canceled and another 1,235 were delayed on Thursday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. About 1,000 people spent the night on cots and mats at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, the airport said. Across the state in Durham, motorists stuck in traffic that resembled the gridlock mess in Atlanta two weeks ago found refuge for the night at a mall.
"This is one of the toughest storms North Carolina has seen in decades," Governor Pat McCrory told WSOC-TV.
The storm system, which has dumped heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain from eastern Texas to the Carolinas since Tuesday, was blamed for at least 15 deaths in the South.
Decisions on Schools
The decision to keep New York City schools open drew criticism from teachers and some parents, who said it was unwise to expect children to travel in dangerous conditions. "Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted," said United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew. "It was a mistake to open schools today."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the decision, saying the city was not facing the kind of overwhelming snow that would make it impossible for kids to get to school. "It would be very, very easy to call off school constantly," he said. "It is our obligation to run the school system. We have a state mandate to reach a number of school days."
Many other districts around the region kept students home. Francine Fencel, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, sent her four kids to build igloos in the yard on their sixth snow day this year but realized the family would be losing some holiday time. "We had all these long weekends scheduled in March when the kids were supposed to be off school, but those have all been taken back because of snow days," Fencel said. "The schools will start adding days on to the end of the school year."
Philadelphia closed schools for its 135,000 students for the fifth time this school year on Thursday, more than it had planned for, so the system will have to find a way to make up four days to meet the 180-day minimum set by law. Schools spokesman Fernando Gallard said the days would be made up with a mix of a shortened spring break adding days in the current school calendar or at the end of the school year.
Flights were delayed and canceled throughout the region, with Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport the hardest hit, FlightAware said.
Pam Foster, 38, of Auburn, Maine, was waiting at a Philadelphia Amtrak station for a train to Portland after two of her flights were canceled. "How bad do I want to get home? I'm willing to sit on a train for ten hours," said Foster said, adding she wants to get home today to see her son, who will head to Canada to see his grandparents for next week's winter break.
At Atlanta's airport, where 70 percent of flights had been canceled on Wednesday, spokesman Reese McCranie said even veteran staff had never seen weather this bad. "We've asked some folks who have been here for 20-plus years, and they cannot recall any point where we've had as many cancellations as we experienced yesterday," McCranie said. "This certainly ranks pretty close to the top."
In addition to air travel disruptions, extensive bus service cancellations were in effect in Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Philadelphia. Government offices across the region, including federal offices in Washington, Connecticut state facilities and western Massachusetts, were closed.
Winter storm warnings were in effect from North Carolina to Maine, with the National Weather Service urging caution because of "hazardous" road conditions in the region. Eight inches of snow was forecast from eastern Pennsylvania to Maine. Nearly 230,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity Thursday morning. About 90,000 Duke Energy Corp customers in North Carolina were without power and South Carolina reported more than 346,000 outages.
By Edith Honan and Victoria Cavaliere of Reuters. With additional reporting by Chris Francescani, and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Dave Warner and Daniel Kelley in Philadelphia, Jim Brumm in Wilmington, North Carolina, David Beasley and Karen Jacobs in Atlanta, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Bill Trott in Washington, all of Reuters.