Major winter storm wallops U.S. Northeast

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The second major snow storm of the winter blanketed the U.S. Northeast and cancelled thousands of flights on Wednesday, battering parts of New England with blizzard conditions and up to 30 inches (76 cm) of snow.

Snow falls outside Madison Square Garden (L) as a storm arrives in New York January 11, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The National Weather Service reported snow on the ground in 49 of the 50 states -- only Florida was spared -- and much of the South was still battling icy conditions that forced Atlanta schools and government to close for the third day in a row.

New York City’s Central Park received 9 inches (23 cm) of snow, less than half the amount that fell in a post-Christmas blizzard that paralyzed the city and dented the popularity of Mayor Michael Bloomberg because of a substandard cleanup.

Financial markets operated normally, though the snow could affect upcoming employment data, possibly reducing U.S. payrolls by 50,000 because it hit during the survey week for the January employment report, UBS Investment Research said.

“To arrive at that estimate, we looked at blizzards in the past and at the consequent deviations from trend in monthly payroll growth,” UBS said in a note to clients.

Thunder and lightning struck Boston and the New England states. Between 12 and 14 inches (30 to 35 cm) of snow fell in the Boston area.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency after snow surpassed initial forecasts, saying snowfall could reach 30 inches (76 cm) in the western part of the state. Springfield officials called it the heaviest snowfall since the blizzard of 1978.

“A snow storm will continue to bury New England today with fierce blizzard conditions towards the coast, creating nightmares for travellers and residents,” Accuweather senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.

Snowfall of more than an inch (2.5 cm) per hour makes it difficult for ploughs to keep pace, and 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) per hour were seen in western Massachusetts, Connecticut, southern New Hampshire and Vermont, the National Weather Service said in a winter storm warning that was in effect until 8 p.m./ 0100 GMT

New York’s Bloomberg declared a weather emergency late on Tuesday, but after observing overnight snowfalls, city officials determined that students could get to class and schools remained open. Cancellation of school for a “snow day” is a benchmark indicating the severity of a storm.

“Bloomberg really irked me last time with how long it took to get the snow cleaned up,” said Jerry Lekovic, 46, outside a Manhattan coffee shop. “But I got to give it to him;, it seems like he’s got his act together now and he deserves recognition for that.”

The previous storm -- the sixth largest in city history -- overwhelmed the city by dumping 20 inches (50 cm) over 17 hours on December 26 and 27.

“As soon as I woke up this morning, my entire neighbourhood was ploughed,” said Sherry McManus, 31. “During the last snow storm, it took a good two to three days before I could even get my car out.”

Airlines cancelled 1,700 flights at the New York area's three major airports alone. Delta DAL.N said it cancelled 18 percent of its flights nationwide.

In Philadelphia, about 6 inches (15 cm) of snow fell, enough to close schools and strand 120 passengers at Philadelphia International Airport overnight. They were given blankets, pillows, snacks and water, airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said.

Icy roads worsened by a sharp dip in overnight temperatures created havoc across Deep South states on Wednesday after record snowfall was recorded in parts of the region.

Temperatures dropped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) early Wednesday, turning melted snow into ice.

Interstate highways were clogged as tractor trailer trucks skidded on the ice and collided, said Jill Goldberg, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“None of the interstates are closed, but on some sections, you just can’t get there because of all the accidents,” she said. (Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston; Kristina Cooke, Aman Ali and Bernd Debusmann Jr. in New York; Jon Hurdle in Philadelphia; Zach Howard in Conway, Mass.; and David Beasley in Atlanta); Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman)