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Paralyzing storm: City at 28.5 inches, near record.

A man shovels cars out under mountains of snow in West Bradford, Chester County, on Saturday afternoon. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer
A man shovels cars out under mountains of snow in West Bradford, Chester County, on Saturday afternoon. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff PhotographerRead more

The great snowstorm of Feb. 5-6, 2010, is history - quite literally.

Officially, 28.5 inches was measured at Philadelphia International Airport, just shy of the all-time record and vaulting the winter of 2009-10 to No. 2 for snow in 126 years of record-keeping.

Unofficially, while it quieted the Saturday bustle and transformed the landscape spectacularly, it was about as disruptive as a weekend storm could be.

More than 70,000 people lost power in South Jersey, mostly in Cape May County. SEPTA shut down most of its operations by 2 p.m. Somehow, the airport remained open, but the runways were as forsaken as the city streets and the empty train stations, with most departing and arriving flights canceled.

Amtrak canceled trains; NJ Transit, buses. And unless you were shoveling or borrowing a neighbor's snowblower, odds are that if you had any plans yesterday, they were canceled.

Just about anyone with an official title asked people to stay home, and at the end of the day Mayor Nutter decided to lead by example. He went home.

Now, if your arms are still sore from shoveling, you might want to skip the next sentence. Another significant snowstorm is possible Tuesday night and Wednesday.

But no panic before its time.

On with the colossal cleanup of this one. Although temperatures will stay in the 20s today and barely hit freezing tomorrow, the ever-stronger February sun should help with the road-clearing.

Road crews could use all the help they can get. Two-foot accumulations were common in the immediate Philadelphia area and to the south, with totals diminishing to a mere foot to the north. The official total of 28.5 inches is a stunning amount of snow for Philadelphia. In 94 previous winters, less than that has fallen during entire seasons.

Therefore, it was understandable that yesterday belonged to the snow, even on a Saturday that's usually busy with shopping, errands, and assorted discretionary spending.

Save for the scrapes of plows and the beeping of backup lights, for one day, at least, the incredible sound-absorbing powers of snow muffled the noises of the modern world.

While a snowfall typically enchants ordinarily prosaic objects, this one went a step further by burying them, transforming patio furniture, trash cans, and even cars into so many cartoonish white humps.

The cosmically white cover stood routine on its head. At midafternoon, Rittenhouse Square looked more like a playground filled with overgrown children than one of Philadelphia's most proper public venues. The roars of grown men playing football knee-deep in snow captivated passersby, who snapped photos of the men, one another, and their pets, in what was surely one of their more unusual days.

The sidewalks were desolate as the few pedestrians took to the car-abandoned streets. It was an excellent Saturday at the Reading Terminal Market. You could actually find a seat.

For anyone who needed to get somewhere, however, it was a colossal, cold headache.

Even though the airport remained open, no airlines were lining up to use the runways, spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said.

"Most of the airlines, including U.S. Airways, have ceased operations," she said. "We're expecting 100 percent flight cancellations," with operations resuming sometime today.

About 400 staffers and 200 pieces of snow-removal equipment had been working nonstop since Friday evening. "Our snow-removal operations are continuous," Lupica said.

Because so few planes came into Philadelphia on Friday, few passengers were stranded here.

"That's a credit to the airlines. Most of them managed their schedules and communicated to their customers," Lupica said.

Passengers today should contact their airline before going to the airport expecting to board a flight, she said. They also can consult the airport's toll-free information line, 1-800-PHL-GATE (1-800-745- 4283), or its Web site,, for specific flight information.

The biggest weather-related problem confronting the city was the SEPTA meltdown, said MaryAnn Tierney, deputy managing director for emergency operations. As many as 15 patients needed transport for their regular dialysis visits, she said, and the shutdown of SEPTA's paratransit operation required extra effort by SEPTA and city police to get patients where they needed to go.

While the storm spared New York City and points north, the heavy snow was widespread across New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the southern half of Pennsylvania.

In southwestern Pennsylvania, about 1,200 motorists were stranded overnight on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after two 18-wheel trucks jackknifed, state police said. County emergency workers used snowmobiles to reach the cars, delivering gas, water, and other supplies.

The bull's-eye was affixed firmly to the Baltimore-Washington area, where some snow totals exceeded 30 inches. Locally, the heaviest snow appeared to fall in parts of Philadelphia; in nearby South Jersey; and in Chester, Delaware, and southeastern Montgomery Counties. Ridley Park logged 30 inches, Cherry Hill 27.3, Glassboro 23.5, and Mount Laurel 21.5.

The official total eclipsed the amazing Dec. 19-20 event by more than five inches. Before this, Philadelphia never had recorded two storms of 14-plus inches in the same season.

The seasonal total is 56.3 inches, behind only 1995-96 on the all-time list. It is also shockingly more than those of some of our distant neighbors to the north, who were snubbed by this storm.

Through Friday, Boston had a total of 28.9 inches; Albany, N.Y., 21.5; and New York City 15.5.

Philly can't claim the East Coast snow title, however. That belongs to Washington, also known as the New Syracuse. It looks like this one will put D.C. above 65 inches for the season.

This truly has been the upside-down winter.

Storms have ridden a ramped-up Southern storm track juiced by El Niño, an unusual warming over the equatorial Pacific that generates strong upper-air winds from west to east. It's common to have a brisk storm business across the South during El Niño, but those storms don't always make it up this way.

This season, they are getting just close enough, and extraordinary air pressure patterns in the Arctic and North Atlantic have supplied sufficient cold air for snow. But that same dry, cold air has kept the major-league snow from getting much past Philadelphia.

Fortunately, the two monsters this year would have been far more disruptive on weekdays, but that's not so fortunate for retail businesses and churches. Cardinal Justin Rigali said in a statement that churches in the archdiocese would hold Masses, but he advised Catholics to "use their best judgment" about leaving the house.

And you have to feel for schoolchildren. Yet another weekend storm was a tough break, depriving them of well-deserved school days off yet again.

They may get their chance by midweek. Yesterday, the main U.S. computer model was showing Philadelphia in the crosshair of another potentially big storm starting Tuesday, said Henry Margusity, a meteorologist with Accu-Weather Inc. in State College, Pa.

Said Jim Poirier, a National Weather Service meteorologist in the Mount Holly office: "That could be another good little storm for us."

For the record, the winter of 2009-10 is within 10 inches of becoming the snowiest ever.