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The Boston Globe

Metro

For commuters, timing of storm was everything

A driver did some on-the-fly windshield scraping on the Leverett Connector.

JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

A driver did some on-the-fly windshield scraping on the Leverett Connector.

Tuesday’s surprisingly potent storm saved its full wrath for the afternoon commute, turning the drive home into a slippery slog that snarled traffic and doubled or tripled the commute for many drivers.

Driving from Brookline to Chelsea took four hours, drivers reported online. Boston to Malden? Three hours.

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At the height of the storm, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., the state Transportation Department deployed some 2,800 plows to clear major highways, a typical number for a storm of this size. But with so many cars on the road, the plows found themselves stuck in traffic, too.

“It all comes down to timing,” Michael Verseckes, a department spokesman, said Wednesday. “It’s difficult when our resources have to share the road with the folks who are driving home, while all the while the snow is intensifying.”

With the plows unable to cover much ground, driving conditions continued to deteriorate, causing widespread delays across the region that turned ordinary backups into extended ordeals. On a Boston.com poll of about 1,800 commuters, 26 percent said their trip took at least two hours, with 14 percent saying it took more than three.

Interstate 93 in Wilmington was snarled with traffic in both directions at the height of the evening rush hour.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Interstate 93 in Wilmington was snarled with traffic in both directions at the height of the evening rush hour.

Online, people shared nightmarish stories and their frustrations.

“Every. Single. Major. Highway,” one person posted on the social-media site Reddit, with a map that showed the region’s road system at near paralysis. “I’ve actually never seen it this bad.”

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While some commuters left work early to avoid delays, many made their way home as the storm intensified and the roads grew more treacherous. During the worst of it, snow fell fast enough to soon cover freshly plowed stretches of road. When the heaviest band of snow crossed the region, snow was falling as quickly as 2 inches per hour, meteorologists said.

“The delays were sustained because the storm was still overhead,” Verseckes said. “You can only drive as fast as the prevailing speed, and that hinders our ability to aggressively address the accumulation.”

A multitude of spin-outs and minor accidents only worsened the situation, officials said. On the Massachusetts Turnpike near Sturbridge, a tractor-trailer lost control and jackknifed across the road, causing lengthy delays. Various ramps and stretches of highway were temporarily closed for clearing, and Route 2 westbound in Lexington was closed around 8:45 p.m. because of multiple stuck vehicles.

Despite the conditions, there were no major accidents, State Police said.

The storm dropped as much as 8 inches of snow in Essex and Middlesex counties, according to the National Weather Service. Boston received more than 6 inches, a record for the date.

Dawn Zitney had just spent a few days on vacation in Miami, where the temperatures climbed into the 80s. But when she landed in Boston Tuesday evening, she was greeted by an early blast of New England winter.

As she inched her way home to New Hampshire, the warmth of South Florida seemed very far away.

“It was a rude awakening,” she said. “Just total gridlock, and nowhere to go.”

For Zitney, hopes for a smooth trip home came to a crashing halt. On an iced-over Route 1A, traffic was barely budging. She thought about giving up and staying the night in a hotel, but decided home would be worth the wait.

Three hours after leaving Logan Airport, she arrived home in Durham, N.H., a trip that she has made often in a little over an hour.

Zitney said that she saw no plows for the first leg of her trip. But by the time she finally made it to Interstate 95, it was clear, and the rest of the trip went much easier.

“They were out in full force,” she said of the snow plows. “I’ve never been so excited to see 95.”

The storm also caused significant delays to bus routes in and around Boston, said Kelly Smith, an MBTA spokeswoman.

“They were dealing with the same terrain the rest of the city was dealing with,” Smith said.

Trains generally ran smoothly, although the Blue Line became backed up when a passenger had a medical emergency. Aboveground Green Line trains were also slower than usual.

Crews were out overnight to make sure everything was ready for the morning commute, Smith said.

At about 8 p.m. in Fitchburg, a commuter rail train going less than 10 miles per hour derailed after snow and ice buildup hindered the train’s brakes.

In a separate incident, a car became stuck on the tracks in Cohasset and was struck by a commuter rail train. No injuries were reported in either incident.

For those already weary of winter, some good news: Conditions will remain dry until at least Friday, and temperatures are expected to rise to unseasonably warm levels. Not exactly warm by Miami standards, but a start.

Correspondent Jasper Craven contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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