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Late winter snow snarls traffic, shuts schools in northeastern U.S.

by

By Daniel Lovering and Zach Howard

BOSTON/CONWAY, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Snow, sleet and rain hit the northeastern United States on Tuesday, the last full day of winter, slowing traffic, closing schools and annoying people tired of the wet and cold weather.

In New England, about 6 inches of snow fell on Boston, with as much as 10 inches recorded in the city's northern suburbs and southern New Hampshire and Vermont.

This has been a snowier than usual winter in New England - Boston received 62.3 inches of snow through the season, well over the 39.5 inch (1 meter) average. About half of that came in a February blizzard that prompted authorities across the region to declare snow emergencies.

Massachusetts state officials on Tuesday postponed a statewide test of grammar school students. Many school districts, including Boston, canceled classes on Tuesday, the last day of winter before the Spring Equinox, which falls on Wednesday.

"We've had more than enough and I could really do with a break," said Paul Nulsen, 59, a researcher at an astronomical observatory, as he shoveled a sidewalk outside his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

By midday the snow had turned to sleet and freezing rain around Boston, with snow expected to linger on into the afternoon north of New England's largest city, according to the National Weather Service.

MIXED BLESSING

The northeast was not the only region of the United States to face inclement weather. Some 100,000 homes and businesses were without power in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia after being hit by high winds.

In Tennessee, heavy rains arrived overnight, helping to put out a wind-stoked 160-acre (65 hectare) wildfire in tourist capital Pigeon Forge.

"It was a big help," said Sevier County spokesman Perrin Anderson. "It poured throughout the evening. The last thing I heard was the fire was out and under control."

Strong winds that preceded the thunderstorm fed the fire that began Sunday afternoon at Black Bear Ridge Resort. Sixty-five structures, mostly rental tourist cabins, were destroyed or damaged.

Pigeon Forge is a popular tourist destination near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its most popular attraction, entertainer Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park, is on the other side of the city from Monday's fire.

Tennessee also saw two tornadoes on Monday that caused relatively minor damage in the central part of the state, snapping trees and tearing the roof off one home with 105 mile per hour winds.

SPEED LIMITS

Authorities across New England reported a larger than usual number of traffic accidents as commuters ventured out on slippery roads during the storm. The Massachusetts State Police ordered the speed limit on the state's main highway reduced to 40 miles per hour.

In Marlborough, Massachusetts, a bus carrying the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team collided with a passenger car.

"That definitely appears to be weather-related. The two vehicles were spinning on the road and made contact with each other," said State Police spokesman David Procopio. No injuries were reported in either vehicle, he said.

Some 545 flights had been canceled, according to the Web site FlightAware.com, with the most cancellations at Boston Logan International Airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport.

In the Western Massachusetts hill town of Conway, Claudia Rutherford, a 46-year-old psychologist, said she was tiring of school cancellations for her two boys.

"We've had so many of these that the kids don't necessarily even want to go out and play in the snow anymore," Rutherford said. "I've reached a point where I make them, or I put them to work helping us with shoveling."

(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville, Tennessee, Verna Gates in Birmingham, Alabama and Scott DiSavino in New York, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Grant McCool and Nick Zieminski)

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