Last updated: January 4, 2014 1:10 am

US northeast hit by severe winter weather

The first big winter storm of the year pummeled the northeastern US with heavy snow and bitter cold, closing schools, tangling traffic and grounding flights.

Snow blanketed the region from Virginia to Maine by Friday morning, with nearly 18 inches reported in Boston, 11 inches in New York City, nine inches in Philadelphia and three inches in Washington, according to the National Weather Service. Some Massachusetts towns recorded nearly two feet of snow.

New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency as snowfall and high winds created near-blizzard conditions. Cold air was expected to blast the region through the weekend, with temperatures in the mid-Atlantic and northeast areas forecast to be as much as 20 to 30 degrees below normal on Friday night.

“It is going to be bitterly cold tonight. The snow may have stopped, but we are not out of the woods,” said Bill de Blasio, New York mayor, who was facing his first test at the helm of the largest US city following his swearing-in on New Year’s day.

Another wave of arctic chill was forecast to move from Canada across the midwest, dropping temperatures as low as -34C (-30F).

The storm led to at least 16 deaths across the country, several due to slippery roads, the Associated Press reported.

More than 2,700 US flights were cancelled and 5,600 delayed on Friday, following 2,300 cancellations on Thursday ahead of the storm, according to FlightAware, a tracking provider.

Amtrak train services between New York and Boston operated with delays, and commuter trains in New Jersey, Long Island and New York’s northern suburbs ran on reduced weekend schedules. New York City subways and buses were running but with some service changes because of the storm.

Schools in cities including New York and Boston were closed on Friday as thousands of ploughs and salt spreaders were deployed to clear streets. Some highways, including the New York Thruway, which stretches from New York City to Albany, and the Long Island Expressway, were reopened after being closed on Thursday night, but officials cautioned people to stay indoors.

“If you can avoid travelling and stay inside tonight, please do so. If you must go outside, dress warmly and be extremely careful – and avoid driving if possible,” Mr de Blasio said, warning of icy pavements and roads.

In a sharp contrast to his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who was heavily criticised for the city’s slow response to a 2010 blizzard while he was on holiday in Bermuda, Mr de Blasio tweeted a photograph of himself shovelling snow outside his family’s Brooklyn home on Friday morning.

“We have to get it right, no question about it,” he said. He gave city workers an “A” grade for their response but said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

In Boston, Thomas Menino, the long-time mayor who leaves office on Monday, declared a snow emergency as his final official act.

“What a New Year’s gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor,” he said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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