"Low-end blizzard" eases in Northeast

Last Updated Dec 27, 2012 5:25 PM EST

CONCORD, New Hampshire A powerful winter storm blamed for 16 deaths in other parts of the country is bringing rain to southern New England and snow further north, but the region has been largely spared the pounding that other states took.

The storm pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and made its way into the Northeast Wednesday night, leaving up to a foot of snow in some locations by Thursday morning. By noon, the precipitation had stopped in parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Massachusetts, though snow continued to fall in upstate New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

Other areas were getting a messy mix of rain and snow or just rain - enough to slow down commuters and those still heading home from holiday visits with family.

"The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex," said John Kwiatkowski, an Indianapolis-based meteorologist with the weather service.

Thousands of travelers were trying to make it home Thursday after the fierce storm stranded them at airports or relatives' homes around the region. Some inbound flights were delayed in Philadelphia and New York's LaGuardia, but the wet and windy weather wasn't leading to delays at other major East Coast airports.

On New York's Long Island, a Southwest Airlines jet bound for Tampa, Florida, veered off a taxiway and got stuck in mud Thursday morning. Officials said there were no injuries to the 129 passengers and five crew members, who were expected to take a later flight. Though the area received heavy rain overnight, Southwest spokesman Paul Flanigan said it wasn't clear whether that played a role in the incident.

In Pittsburgh, a flight that landed safely during the storm Wednesday night got stuck in snow for about two hours on the tarmac. The American Airlines flight arrived between 8 and 9 p.m., but then ran over a snow patch and got stuck.

The storm system spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day, startling people like Bob and Sherry Sims of Mobile, Alabama, who'd just finished dinner.

"We heard that very distinct sound, like a freight train," said Bob Sims. They headed for a center bathroom.

Power was still out at the Sims' home on Wednesday, but the house wasn't damaged and they used a generator to run heaters to stay warm. Some neighbors were less fortunate, their roofs peeled away and porches smashed by falling trees.

People were killed in accidents in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and homes in businesses in Arkansas and Maryland were without power.

Officials in Ohio blamed the bad weather for a crash that killed an 18-year-old girl, who lost control of her car Wednesday afternoon and smashed into an oncoming snow plow on a highway northeast of Cincinnati.

A man and a woman in Evansville, Ind., were killed when the scooter they were riding went out of control on a snowy street Wednesday and they were hit by a pickup truck.

Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, and two people, including a 76-year-old Milwaukee woman, were killed Tuesday on Oklahoma highways. Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana. Other storm-related deaths include a man checking on a disabled vehicle near Allentown, Pa., who was struck and killed Wednesday night, and two people killed in separate crashes in Virginia.

As usual, winter-sports enthusiasts welcomed the snow. At Smiling Hill Farm in Maine, Warren Knight was hoping for enough snow to allow the opening of trails.

"We watch the weather more carefully for cross-country skiing than we do for farming. And we're pretty diligent about farming. We're glued to the weather radio," said Knight, who described the weather at the 500-acre farm in Westbrook as being akin to the prizes in "Cracker Jacks -- we don't know what we're going to get.

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