By Scott Malone and Victoria Cavaliere
BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A heavy snowfall and dangerously low temperatures gripped the northeastern United States on Friday, grounding flights, closing schools and government offices across the region and causing at least three deaths.
Boston was hard-hit by the first major winter storm of 2014, getting nearly 18 inches of snow, while some towns north of New England's largest city saw close to two feet of accumulation.
Major cities from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Maine, were slammed, with New York's Manhattan island getting 6 inches of snow and parts of the borough of Queens seeing more than 10 inches of fresh powder.
Snow tapered off across much of the region by midday, but dangerous cold was expected to linger into Saturday. The National Weather Service said the mass of Arctic air would drop temperatures to 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11-17 C) below normal, with record lows possible in some areas on Friday.
"Over the next 24 hours, we are going to see temperatures like we haven't seen in quite a while," said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "Parts of the state are going to see temperatures 20 degrees below zero (F/-29 C) - not with wind-chill, real temperatures. It's going to be problematic."
As temperatures in New York City dropped to 14 degrees F (-10 C) the city's Department of Homeless Services went to "code blue," doubling the number of vans patrolling streets to seek people who needed shelter and streamlining the check-in process for homeless shelters.
The unusually cold weather extended as far south as New Orleans, where temperatures approached 35 degrees F (2 C), prompting officials to open emergency shelters for the homeless.
Washington received more than 2 inches of snow, Philadelphia roughly 5 inches and Hartford 7 inches. http://link.reuters.com/zym75v
The snow prompted high school student Noa Randall, 17, to strap on a pair of cross-country skis to navigate Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, where schools were closed on Friday.
"I bike everywhere, so it's hard to get places, so I'm using skis instead," said Randall. "It's perfect, and it's nice and fluffy."
Some 2,076 U.S. flights were canceled and 2,083 were delayed on Friday, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks air traffic.
New York's LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport reported the most canceled departures.
The weather was a factor in at least three deaths.
In Kentucky, a 50-year-old woman died on Thursday morning when she lost control of her car on an icy road near South Williamson, according to state police.
Police recovered the body of a 71-year-old woman who had wandered out in the rural western New York State town of Byron on Thursday night, improperly dressed for the single-digit temperatures, according to the Genesee County Sheriff's Office.
A Philadelphia city worker was killed after a machine he was using was crushed by a mound of de-icing rock salt, media said.
The storm posed the first major challenge to New York's new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He said nearly 2,500 snow plows were on the streets of the biggest U.S. city as of early Friday, with the top accumulation 6.5 inches.
He started his day shoveling and salting the walk in front of his Brooklyn brownstone - a task his wife had said their 16-year-old son Dante would handle.
Dante turned up later, not being an early riser, his father said at the briefing.
Asked what grade he would give his teen-aged son, de Blasio said: "I give Dante an A for effort and a D for punctuality."
Some New Yorkers grumbled about the city's response.
"I'm sure mayor de Blasio is doing what he can, but a lot of the streets haven't been cleared at all and I'm not too happy about that," said Anesha Jones, 26, as she walked through Brooklyn to her job as a bank teller.
Others took the storm in stride.
"It's winter. It snowed. It happens," said Mark Kulpa as he shoveled a sidewalk outside his Brooklyn workplace.
He said the response was better than a Christmas 2010 blizzard, where then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under heavy criticism for the city's slow response while he was out of town on vacation.
"At least they are out plowing and spreading salt. That's already a step up," Kulpa said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the storm had little impact on New York City's transportation network, but blizzard-like conditions meant rail service on Long Island would run on weekend schedules.
In Boston, downtown was sparsely populated, with many workers heeding Governor Deval Patrick's suggestion to stay home and avoid traveling on icy roadways.
In Washington, the Office of Personnel Management told hundreds of thousands of federal workers they could work from home or take an unscheduled leave because of the storm.
The United Nations in New York and federal courts in New York City, Newark, New Jersey, and Boston shut down. Schools closed across much of the region.
The governors of New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency.
In New York, a court conference for former SAC Capital Advisors portfolio manager Mathew Martoma was moved to Monday, delaying the start of his criminal trial until Tuesday. Martoma was one of nine former SAC employees arrested as part of a broad insider trading probe by the U.S. Attorney's office.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware postponed for a week a hearing to decide the fate of Fisker Automotive, a bankrupt manufacturer of plug-in hybrid sports cars that was launched with a U.S. government loan.
Massachusetts officials were also monitoring coastal flooding in communities including the wealthy town of Scituate, about 30 miles south of Boston, and parts of the Cape Cod beach resort areas. Some roads and waterfront parking lots were submerged by midday and TV images showed waves crashing over sea walls and flowing around the foundations of some homes as high tide hit at noon local time (1700 GMT).
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst in New York, Daniel Lovering in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jeffrey B. Roth in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri, Dave Warner in Philadelphia and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Nick Zieminski)