Another Philadelphia disappointment: Big snowstorm is bust, but schools, offices still closed

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PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia thought it was done with hype and underperformance when football season ended.

Then came talk of a massive coastal storm, forecasts of a foot or more of snow and the disappointing reality: 1.2 inches in the city and 2 to 5 inches in the suburbs, all of it more annoying than life-altering.

The storm that slammed eastern Long Island and much of New England on Monday and Tuesday shifted east, sparing Philadelphia and its suburbs from a crippling blow.

City officials lifted a snow emergency early Tuesday and were left scrambling to defend their decision to shut schools and government offices.

"I'd certainly rather be prepared and subsequently disappointed with inconvenience than underprepared and surprised with any kind of tragedy," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. "Public safety is always first in these kinds of decisions."

Local meteorologists took to Twitter, television and radio to apologize for the missed forecast and explain why their predictions went so awry.

Gary Szatkowski, the meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service's Mount Holly, New Jersey office, tweeted: "You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't. Once again, I'm sorry."

Before sunrise Tuesday, downtown Philadelphia hummed with sounds of plows, snow blowers and shovels scraping up the thin coat of white that materialized overnight.

"I was hoping we were going to get a lot of snow," said parking attendant Jean Louis, 54. "I woke up and was like, 'It's a joke, man.'"

Donna Whitaker huddled under the canopy of a high-rise office building as she waited for the bus. She said she was thrilled the blizzard bypassed Philadelphia because she had no way to get to work in heavy snow.

"I'm very happy," said Whitaker.

Zia Mughal started delivering bread earlier than usual Tuesday.

Mughal, 41, said he wasn't scheduled to work until noon but was told to come in at 5 a.m. to get an early start. Standing at the back of his open delivery truck, Mughal said the roads hadn't been bad, but he hoped to be off the streets soon.

"It's not too bad out," Mughal said. "A lot of stores closed because they didn't know what was going to happen. Hopefully I'm done in (a couple) hours."

Although the roads were drivable, Mughal criticized the snow removal efforts in the city: "It's like they don't believe in cleaning up."

Amy Murakami started the first leg of her morning routine without a hitch just after 5 a.m. Murakami, a computer software architect in the Philadelphia suburbs, headed to the gym Tuesday before grabbing a bus to work.

"It's not so much the snow as the ice," said Murakami, pointing to the thin coating of snow on Chestnut Street. "I can still walk in this."

Despite the limited snowfall and steady footing, city, school and transit officials approached Tuesday with caution.

All public and Catholic schools and city offices in Philadelphia and many in the city's suburbs were closed, nonessential state workers in the city were told to come into work two hours late and regional commuter rail lines were operating on a Saturday schedule.

Philadelphia International Airport returned to normal operations Tuesday, but more than 80 percent of flights were canceled. Passengers stranded overnight during the storm were given cots, pillows, blankets, bottled water and snacks.

Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency Monday night, and the National Guard activated 150 guardsmen.

"We're incredibly frustrated by the forecast," Samantha Phillips, Philadelphia's emergency management director, said during a news conference Monday night. "It's really difficult to make the decisions we have to make with such variability in the forecast information."

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