Blizzard Pounds East Coast With Record Snowfalls

Snow boots, shovels and sleds appeared across the Midwest and East Coast as a massive storm dumped up to two feet of snow in some areas, causing travel delays, school closures and -- for some lucky folks -- a chance to frolic in the fresh powder.

Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City were hardest hit, with those cities and their suburbs expected to get 12 to 18 inches of snow. High winds and poor visibility are going to make travel extremely dangerous throughout the night.

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The blizzard could bring winds in excess of 40 mph to some parts of the East Coast, according to Tom Kines, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

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In anticipation of the storm, airlines virtually ceased operations up and down the coast, with about 5,600 flights canceled Tuesday and today.

Chicago set a record for the biggest daily snowfall in February. The 13 inches of snow there topped the 11.5 that fell Feb. 18, 1908.

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For Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, the storm came as the cities were still digging out from a powerful weekend storm that left nearly two feet of snow across the capital.

"The amount of snow is unusual, plus back-to-back storms like this is highly unusual," Kines said. "January was pretty easy. It was an uneventful month and now we're making up for it."

Many buildings and power lines there were already weighed down by the weekend's heavy snows. This storm only added to the woes.

A Maryland warehouse used by the Smithsonian museum to store artifacts suffered a roof collapse late this morning. It was unclear what damage, if any, had been sustained to the artwork and collectibles inside.

Philadelphia Electric and Gas Company, with a total of 1.6 million customers, says conditions are rapidly worsening and expects that number to increase into the night and overnight due to a combination of snow accumulation and expected high winds. Those affected are mostly in suburbs as trees down power lines.

School Closings

New York City took the rare step of canceling schools and closing the courts. It was only the third time in eight years that the city's 1 million school children had a snow day. Even the United Nations closed shop.

In Ohio, Columbus and Cleveland both got about 5 inches of snow while Cincinnati saw 7 inches. There was also heavy snowfall throughout parts of Tennessee, up through Detroit.

In Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, the storm threw some freezing rain into the mix. Maybe it was just Mother Nature taunting those who left their homes and tried to get somewhere.

The snow is expected to end by nightfall but high winds throughout the evening are going to mean snow drifts and blinding conditions, Kines said.

"It means no work, no school and lots of shoveling," he added. "Records for seasonal snowfall are being set with these storms in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C."

Baltimore has now beaten its all-time record of 54.4 inches of snow in one season. The is at 72 inches and counting. Philadelphia is re-writing history too and Washington D.C. late Wednesday, beat its all-time record, set in 1898.

For anybody trying to travel today, well, good luck.

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With conditions worsening dramatically in southeast Pennsylvania, Gov. Edward G. Rendell closed the non-toll portions of four interstates at 2 p.m. They include the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), I-476, I-176, and I-676.

"Other than emergency responders, no one should be driving on Pennsylvania's highways today," Rendell said. "This is a serious storm that will jeopardize the safety of anyone who attempts to travel."

There was a 50-car pileup near Williamsburg, Va. And in New York, the lower level of George Washington Bridge inbound and lower level of Verrazano Narrows Bridge in both directions were closed due to weather conditions.

In Philadelphia, the city shut down its bus service at 5 p.m. because of the deteriorating weather conditions. Bus service will resume at 4 a.m. Thursday. Normally, weekday bus service carries about 500,000 passengers. Ridership Wednesday was about 10 percent normal.

Down the road in Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake banned travel on city streets. Only emergency vehicles, authorized snow plows and power crews are allowed on city streets.

Airport Delays

The airports weren't much better.

Airlines at O'Hare International Airport canceled about 600 flights Monday night and Tuesday. For today, operations were slowly getting back to normal but there were still more than 300 flights canceled, according to Gregg Cunningham, a spokesman for Chicago's Department of Aviation.

At least there were no reported delays.

Across town at Midway International Airport, Southwest Airlines started flying again after 24 hours of suspended flights at the airport. Still, Midway had more than 150 flights canceled today.

Airports in New York, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia were all virtually closed with the airlines canceling just about every flight in and out of the region. A handful were flying out of New York's three airports, but travelers were advised to check first with their airline.

US Airways canceled 1,571 flights, Continental 900, Delta 900, United 600, Southwest 600, American 500, JetBlue 364, and AirTran 163.

Cancellations will linker into Thursday for certain. American has already canceled 138 flights tomorrow. US Airways canceled 245 flights.

This has not been the most number of flights canceled though.

Most airlines say there have been times when they've had to cancel even more, although the one-two punch of these storms has been particularly brutal on travel.

"I cannot recall any one time where there has been this much disruption to air travel in the [Washington D.C.] metro region," said David Castleveter of the Air Transport Association, the airlines' trade group. "Much of the nation's air travel has been crippled as a result of these treacherous weather events."

Amtrak ran a lighter schedule today along its Northeast Corridor. The national rail company planned service between Washington, New York and Boston but was not running all its normal trains.

The storm also resulted in downed trees and power lines on portions of CSX freight railroad tracks that Amtrak uses south of Washington, resulting in continued service cancelations in Virginia and the Carolinas.

As in the case of the airlines, check with Amtrak before heading to the train station.

With reports from ABC News' Lisa Stark and Ron Claiborne.