Jan 27, 2015 12:04 PM by CBS/AP
BOSTON - A howling blizzard heaped snow on Boston, the rest of eastern Massachusetts and parts of Long Island on Tuesday, delivering wind gusts topping 75 mph, but it failed to live up to the hype farther south in Philadelphia and New York City, which canceled its travel ban amid better-than-expected weather conditions.
"We got about half as much as a lot of the projections have been," New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said around noon on Tuesday.
After much of the region shut down due to the dire warnings of weather forecasters, at least one National Weather Service meteorologist apologized.
All too aware that big snowstorms can make or break politicians, governors and mayors moved quickly to declare emergencies and order the shutdown of streets, highways, bridges and tunnels to prevent travelers from getting stranded and to enable plows and emergency vehicles to get through.
In a press conference Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended officials' reaction to the dire predictions of forecasters, citing the massive snowstorm in Buffalo in November that was not predicted to be bad. The severity caught nearly everyone by surprise.
Still, total accumulation was expected to reach or exceed 2 feet in most of Massachusetts, potentially making it one of the top snowstorms of all time. The National Weather Service said a wind gust of 78 mph was reported on Nantucket, and a 72 mph gust was reported in Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard.
Overnight an army of 2,000 plows outnumbered cars on the street in parts of Boston, desperately trying to keep pace with the fast falling snow, at times pounding the city at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.
In the coastal town of Scituate, where high tides are creating the threat of flooding, officials protectively shut off power to 200 homes hoping to prevent electrical fires.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said: "We've been through blizzards before and I certainly am confident that we are prepared, but a storm of this size poses a threat to public safety and the safety of our residents in many different ways so we're taking this storm very seriously."
Throughout the New England region, windy, snowy and icy conditions made driving dangerous. A tractor trailer spun out and closed parts of Interstate 495.
While some ventured outside, wind gusts peaking near 60 miles an hour kept most indoors.
With up to two feet of heavy, wet snow expected, more than 1,000 utility crews are standing by for what could be significant power outages in parts of the state.
Coastal residents braced for a powerful storm surge and the possibility of damaging flooding and beach erosion, particularly on Cape Cod.
"It's part of living here," said Steve Berlo, who has an oceanfront home in Scituate, Massachusetts. "When the water comes, you get out of the way, and when it goes, you see what it left you. Like we always say, five days a year it sucks to live here, but the rest of the year it's good."
Maine and New Hampshire each declared a state of emergency, and government offices in both states were closed Tuesday.
CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan reports that at Forest City Landing, where ferries take people and cars to Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland, Maine, local authorities have been warning people to stay home, which most have.
However, despite fears of coastal flooding and high surf, as well as nearly a foot of snow already, and more to come, the ferry was still running Tuesday morning.
Snow is topping 15 inches in parts of southern Maine and is expected to reach two feet in some areas as winds of up to 60 mph lash coastal parts of the state, said meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Gray.
The storm is beginning to weaken, but steady snow will continue through the afternoon. Northern Maine is also getting high winds and is beginning to get heavy snow, but will likely top out around 10 inches. Blizzard warnings remain in effect for coastal parts of the state. Lewiston, Rockport and Yarmouth all report snow totals above 10 inches.
Cities in eastern Connecticut including Norwich and Groton had accumulated more than a foot of snow.
Kim Lucey of CBS Hartford affiliate WFSB reports the wind has been strong in parts of Connecticut, up to 50 mph. Large drifts have been reported in many areas.
Providence, Rhode Island, reported 10 inches of snow early Tuesday.
Sections of New York were forecast to see 10 to 20 inches of snow, and a 60-mile stretch of the New York Thruway reopened after being shut down for about nine hours.
But as the storm system spun northward, conditions improved quickly from southwest to northeast. Travel bans were lifted by midmorning in New Jersey and New York. New York City buses, subways and trains were expected to restart later in the morning, and a return to a full schedule was expected Wednesday.
Heavy snow blanketed New York City's roads and sidewalks Tuesday morning. However, the storm dumped about a quarter of what meteorologists had predicted, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler. That was still enough to bring the city that never sleeps to a standstill.
Mayor DeBlasio had warned before the storm: "This is not business as usual. Get home."
On Monday night, state officials issued a travel ban, shutting down subway and commuter train services, telling people to stay off the roads to make way for plows and emergency crews.
Volunteers from the American Red Cross of Greater New York were on standby through the night. They had enough disaster supplies to help 50,000 people.
On Long Island, CBS News' Kris Van Cleave reports conditions were much closer to the dire predications. Parts of Long Island experienced a blizzard, with snow falling 2 inches per hour.
Salts trucks and snow plows have been working through the night to keep the mounting snow from clogging the roadways.
Long Island Railroad service, which sees about 300,000 commuters per day, was suspended at 11 p.m. Monday night and continues this morning.
A blizzard warning remains until midnight Wednesday, and wind gusts of up to 55 mph are likely across most of the island, with gusts possibly hitting 70 mph on the east end. Winds could lead to wide spread power outages.
Coastal flooding is also a big concern here, with high tides forecasted to be two to three feet higher than usual. Schools across the island are also closed.
Local police say 17-year-old boy snow-tubing with friends was killed when he crashed into a light pole and died Monday night amid moderate to heavy snow and gusty winds.
In southern New Jersey and Philadelphia, where a foot or more of snow had been forecast, residents dealt with just 3 to 5 inches, which proved to be more annoying than life-altering.
Nearly 8,000 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Airlines have cancelled 4,615 flights, about 15 percent of all daily airlines flights in the United States, according to data from FlightAware. Virtually all flights to and from the three major New York area airports, as well as the Philadelphia and Boston airports were cancelled for Tuesday.
Airlines cancelled 379 flights, but FlightAware released a statement saying it expects that number "to rise slightly once airlines can gauge how long the recovery effort will take."
Schools and businesses let out early on Monday. Government offices closed. Shoppers stocking up on food jammed supermarkets and elbowed one another for what was left. Broadway stages went dark.
On Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange said it would operate normally Tuesday.
Through midmorning, utility companies across the region reported minimal power outages.
Amtrak says limited service is resuming between New York and Albany, New York, as storm conditions ease. Amtrak says service between New York and Chicago will operate, but connecting service to and from Boston remains suspended.
Rail service is operating on a reduced schedule between New York and Washington, while it remains suspended between New York and Boston.
Also suspended is service between Brunswick, Maine, and Boston; Washington and St. Albans, Vermont; and the Springfield line between New Haven and Springfield, Massachusetts. Service between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia is operating with reduced frequency.
© 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.