With winds howling, a blizzard slammed Boston and surrounding parts of New England on Tuesday with none of the mercy it unexpectedly showed New York City, piling up more than 60 cm of snow.

The storm punched out a 12-to-15 metre section of a seawall in Marshfield, Mass., badly damaging a vacant home. In Newport, Rhode Island, it toppled a 33 metre replica of a Revolutionary War sailing vessel as the ship lay in drydock, breaking its mast and puncturing its hull.

The blizzard's force and relentlessness stunned even winter-hardened New Englanders.

"It's a wicked storm," Jeff Russell said as he fought a mounting snowdrift that was threatening to cover one of the windows of his home in Scarborough, Maine.

The snow in New England began Monday evening, continued all day Tuesday and was not expected to ease until late evening. 

Much of the Northeast — particularly the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor of more than 35 million people — had braced for a debilitating blast Monday evening and into Tuesday after forecasters warned of a storm of potentially historic proportions.

The weather lived up to its billing in New England and on New York's Long Island, which also got clobbered. U.S. National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini said the storm may prove to be one of the biggest ever in some parts of Massachusetts.

Winter weather

A frozen SUV is parked near Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass. Massachusetts was pounded by snow and lashed by strong winds early Tuesday. (Gary Higgings/The Quincy Patriot Ledger/Associated Press)

But in the New York City area, the snowfall wasn't all that bad, falling short of 30 cm. By Tuesday morning, buses and subways were up and running again, and driving bans there and in New Jersey had been lifted.

The glancing blow left forecasters apologizing and politicians defending their near-total shutdown on travel. Some commuters grumbled, but others sounded a better-safe-than-sorry note and even expressed sympathy for the weatherman.

"I think it's like the situation with Ebola: If you over-cover, people are ready and prepared, rather than not giving it the attention it needs," said Brandon Bhajan, a security guard at a New York City building.

Uccellini told reporters that the weather service should have done a better job of communicating the uncertainty in its forecast.

In New England, more than 50 cm of snow coated Boston's Logan Airport by early afternoon, while nearby Framingham had 76 cm and Worcester 66 cm, according to unofficial totals. The town of Lunenburg, Massachusetts, reported 83 cm.

At least 30,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Boston-Cape Cod area, including the entire island of Nantucket.

'It feels like a hurricane with snow'

A 125 km/h wind gust was reported on Nantucket, and a 115 km/h one on Martha's Vineyard.

"It felt like sand hitting you in the face," Bob Paglia said after walking his dog in Whitman, a small town about 30 km south of Boston.

New York snow storm

A woman cross-country skis on snow-covered roads during a blizzard in Cambridge, Mass. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Maureen Keller, who works at an oceanfront resort in Montauk, said "it feels like a hurricane with snow."

Around New England, snowplows struggled to keep up, and Boston police drove several dozen doctors and nurses to work at hospitals.

Snow blanketed Boston Common, and drifts piled up against historic Faneuil Hall, where Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty stoked the fires of rebellion. Flooding was reported along some coastal communities.

Officials in cold-weather cities are keenly aware of the political costs of seeming unprepared or unresponsive to snow, and the blizzard poses an early test for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who took office three weeks ago. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh just finished his first year in office.

"So far, so good," Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry said. "What's important for a governor or a mayor is to appear to be in charge and to have a plan to finish up the job and to get the city and the state back to work."

As the storm pushed into the Northeast on Monday, the region came to a near standstill, alarmed by forecasters' dire predictions. More than 7,700 flights were cancelled, and schools, businesses, government offices and transit systems — including the New York City subway — shut down. But as the storm pushed northward, it tracked farther east than forecasters expected.

"This is nothing," said Susanne Payot, a cabaret singer in New York whose rehearsal Tuesday was cancelled. "I don't understand why the whole city shut down because of this."

While Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey had been warned they could get 30 to 60 cm of snow, New York City received just under 25 cm, and Philadelphia not much more. New Jersey got up to 25 cm.

'I'm sorry,' forecaster says

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

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his statewide ban on travel as "absolutely the right decision to make" in light of the dire forecast. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will look at whether storm procedures could be improved, but added: "You can't be a Monday morning quarterback on something like the weather."

The New York City mayor said Tuesday things were getting back to normal, but he urged people not to be overconfident and to exercise caution on the roads.

Snowstorm vs. blizzard: What's the difference?

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a huge swath of the U.S.'s Northeast corridor, from New Jersey up to Massachusetts, meaning potential white-out conditions as heavy snow swirls amid gusting wind

The weather service says a blizzard includes sustained or frequent wind gusts of 56 km/h or greater and considerable falling snow that lasts for at least three hours.

This storm is expected to last up to 36 hours in some locations, forecasters said. But another storm could be looming ahead of next weekend.

5 biggest snowstorms at Central Park

  • February 2006: 68.3 cm
  • December 1947: 65.5 cm
  • March 1888: 53.3 cm
  • February 2010: 53 cm
  • January 1996: 51.3 cm

Source: U.S. National Weather Service