NEW YORK - Blowing snow and sleet glazed windshields and roads across the Northeast and the Midwest on Wednesday, messing up Valentine's Day flower deliveries and wrecking couples' plans for romantic dinners.
NThe storm grounded hundreds of flights and forced the closing of schools and businesses from Kentucky to Maine. Many of those stuck at home had no heat or lights because of blackouts that affected more than a quarter-million customers.
"I'm just trying to figure out where to take my wife for Valentine's Day," said Skip Daniels, the emergency management director in Sussex County, N.J.
At least 12 deaths were blamed on the huge storm system.
Blizzard warnings were posted for parts of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, where as much as 2 feet of snow was possible.
The storm's cold, snow, sleet and rain made life difficult for Valentine's Day messengers.
"Cold. Slippery. Nobody has their sidewalks sanded," said Caroline Roggero at Rose Petal Florist in Newport, R.I. "They all want their delivery today."
The storm was a convenient excuse for husbands and boyfriends who forgot to send flowers.
Some delivery drivers got stuck on the roads. Flowers delivered to offices were turned away because the businesses were closed. And customers had to change their orders to have flowers delivered to homes instead of places of work.
"We're hoping people will understand we're doing the best we can do," said Pat Jarvis at Dwyer Florist in Northampton, Mass.
Edigio DiPaola, owner of Spennato's Restaurant - a good place for a romantic dinner with its low lighting, intimate tables, lace tablecloths, Italian wine and marinara sauce - was not expecting much of a Valentine's Day crowd, not with 15 inches of snow on the ground and the temperature in the single digits.
"We are dead," he said, his heavily Italian-accented voice dripping with disappointment. "No one's on the roads. We don't expect anything tonight. It's very bad news - this was a big day for us. Now it will be way below average."
Vermont's state government ordered all nonessential employees home after noon, the New York Capitol in Albany came to a near-halt, and some Pennsylvania state workers were told to stay home. Maine's governor declared a state of emergency to ensure deliveries of heating oil, and New York's governor activated the National Guard.
In upstate New York, more than a foot of snow had fallen by midday in Herkimer County in the Adirondacks, and up to 3 feet of snow was possible. But the brunt of the storm bypassed towns near the east end of Lake Ontario that had been buried by 10 feet and more of lake-effect snow over the past week.
In the Midwest, Springfield, Ill., got 16 inches of now, and stiff wind piled the snow into drifts as high as 9 feet in parts of Indiana.
Hundreds of flights were canceled Wednesday at the New York City area's three major airports and in Albany, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
About 300,000 customers lost power in Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Indiana and New York's Long Island.
The huge weather system was blamed for three deaths in Nebraska; two each in Indiana, New Jersey and Delaware; and one each in Missouri and Ohio. A tornado on the southern side of the huge weather system killed one person in Louisiana.
The storm was good news for the ski industry in New England, where snow has been sparse this winter.
"Best day of the year," snowboarder Willie Bozack, 28, of Moretown, Vt., said outside the base lodge at Sugarbush Resort. "It's epic."