NEW YORK — Heavy snow that surprised and even delighted some Southerners headed toward the winter-hardened Northeast, where an army of emergency workers with plows and salt spreaders readied Wednesday for another onslaught.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said crews would work even harder after criticism of how the city handled a storm just after Christmas, when hundreds of streets went unplowed, subway riders were stranded and medical calls unanswered because ambulances were unable to navigate snowy streets.
Snow started falling late Tuesday. By early Wednesday, 4.5 inches accumulated in Central Park, 3.7 inches at New Jersey's Newark airport, and 3 inches in New Haven, Conn.
Forecasters expected New York City and its suburbs to get an average of about 9 inches and as much as 12 inches in some areas by the afternoon, with reduced visibility and wind gusts up to 35 mph. In New England, the National Weather Service predicted up to a foot across most of Connecticut and the Boston area.
Bloomberg, who was severely chastised by the public for the city's woeful cleanup efforts following the Dec. 26 blizzard, warned residents Tuesday they likely would wake up to unplowed streets and face a rough morning commute because the latest snowstorm was expected to hit heaviest just before rush hour.
"It's going to be a difficult, difficult rush hour," Bloomberg said. "The storm is predicted to be at its heaviest just a few hours before rush hour, and there's no way that our city's plows can get to all 6,000 streets in one or two hours."
The storm is the third to hit New York in less than three weeks, after the Dec. 26 blizzard dumped 29 inches of snow in parts of the city and last week's threat turned into just a 2-inch dusting. It will be another test for Bloomberg and his commissioners, who have suffered endless criticism for the unplowed streets and uncollected garbage that sullied the city for days after the blizzard.
The city stood ready Wednesday with more than 300 salt spreaders, 1,700 plows, and 200 front-end loaders, backhoes and Bobcats. Sanitation workers were on 12-hour shifts.
Seth Andrews, a spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management, said that as of around 1:30 a.m. no serious problems had been reported although a few vehicles had gotten stuck. He said crews were out in full force to handle any emergencies.
In New Jersey, residents were bracing for at least 4 inches of snow throughout the state and up to a foot in parts. And they were keeping a close eye on Gov. Chris Christie, who left for a Disney World family vacation in Orlando, Fla., just before the Christmas blizzard struck the Northeast even though his lieutenant governor also was out of state.
Christie, who was heavily criticized for the trip, has said he and the lieutenant governor wouldn't be out of state at the same time again and even joked last week about "shoveling myself" to dig people out of snow if necessary.
Pennsylvania transportation officials urged residents to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. Reduced speed limits were in place on major highways in the east-central part of the state. As the storm approached Tuesday, the city of Philadelphia declared a snow emergency. City officials expected 4 to 8 inches.
Meteorologist Jim Hayes at the weather service office in Mount Holly, N.J., said the storm was just about over for the city and southeastern Pennsylvania by 3 a.m. Five inches had accumulated in Philadelphia.
Snow and ice shut down much of the South for two days. Road crews lacked winter equipment, salt and sand to clear the roads, and millions of people just stayed home. Mail delivery was restricted, and many schools and other institutions closed. The storm was blamed for 11 deaths and many more injuries.
Despite the inconvenience, Southerners confronted the aftermath with patience — and a certain amount of wonder.
Lynn Marentette, a school psychologist who lives south of Charlotte, N.C., stayed home after classes were canceled. She spent Tuesday catching up with friends on Facebook and watching children sled down a nearby hill — and ignored the stack of paperwork on her desk.
"It is a beautiful, beautiful day out there," she said. "I have some paperwork and some things I've really put off doing, but how often do you have a chance to enjoy the snow?"
Nobody seemed to be complaining much at Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, either.
"It's a once-in-a-decade event. There is no reason to prepare for it. It is not a wise spending of funds," said Brent Taylor, an executive for the United Way who was pulling a sled carrying his 5-year-old daughters, Elise and Grace.
The South's experience offered a preview of what's in store for states from Ohio to New England.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino late Tuesday declared a snow emergency, which bans parking on all major streets and cancels public schools.
By the evening, widespread flight cancellations moved from the South into the Northeast and Great Lakes ahead of the storm. More than 3,500 flights were scrubbed for Tuesday, and at least 1,000 more were expected to be canceled Wednesday from Atlanta to Chicago to Boston. At American Airlines, one type of flight was sacrosanct — international ones leaving out of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
"We will do everything we can to launch and fly our international flights," spokesman Tim Smith said.
The nation's largest commuter railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, suspended service to prevent trains from becoming snowbound. No Tuesday overnight or Wednesday morning trains were running between Speonk and Montauk in Suffolk County, east of New York City.
Bloomberg said his city would decide at 5 a.m. whether to cancel school.
Some schools on Long Island already announced closures for Wednesday, but most appeared to be taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether students and teachers would be in class.
Some New Yorkers said they were nervous about the snow, given the city's poor cleanup of the post-Christmas blizzard.
"I'm not sure anybody's going to make the right decisions," said Andre Borshch, of Brooklyn. "Alaska and Canada spend six months like this, and they have no problems, but here in New York, the city doesn't know what to do with snow. It's like they've forgotten how to do it."
After the blizzard, city officials admitted mistakes, beginning when commissioners considered calling a snow emergency but didn't. The snow emergency declaration keeps private vehicles without snow tires or chains off designated snow routes and bans parking along those routes. The city last declared a snow emergency in 2005.
Bloomberg administration officials on Tuesday again decided against declaring a snow emergency, instead issuing a lower-level weather emergency. The move serves mostly as a mechanism to alert local agencies and residents about the seriousness of the storm. It urges motorists to avoid unnecessary driving, informs them that their cars could be towed at their expense if they impede plows and suspends garbage collections and parking meter charges.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in Carle Place, N.Y., and Sara Kugler Frazier, Chris Hawley and Karen Matthews in New York City; Dorie Turner, Don Schanche and Errin Haines in Atlanta; Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.