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A city turned desolate, all because of 10 inches of snow

As snow again blanketed the region, Post Office Square looked like a ghost town during the lunch hour Wednesday.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

As snow again blanketed the region, Post Office Square looked like a ghost town during the lunch hour Wednesday.

Snowplows rumbled down empty streets. Workers cleared the sidewalk by a Seaport train station for phantom pedestrians. At usually jammed intersections, there was nary a vehicle in sight.

By the Federal Reserve Bank downtown, crews swept away the falling snow Wednesday, as if clearing a path for a lone businessman passing by. “We saw you coming,” one worker quipped. Schools and courthouses were closed, and many people took the day off or worked from home.

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All this for 10 inches of snow from an unexceptional winter storm.

For Kim Gaskin and others, the sight of a fairly routine February storm slowing a major city to a crawl spoke to changing times — and to schools that call off classes well before any snow has fallen, and to politicians who are quick to declare snow emergencies and urge people to stay off the roads.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Pedestrians made their way up a freshly snow-covered Garden Street on Beacon Hill on Wednesday.

Arriving at a muted South Station on the Red Line, Gaskin was surprised to find her train more than half empty. It was not exactly a blizzard, after all.

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“Everyone’s enjoying a snow day, I guess,” she deadpanned. “When people hear it’s going to snow, they always expect the worst. But today really wasn’t that bad.”

New Englanders may pride themselves on winter hardiness, some said, but Wednesday provided stark evidence THAT REPUTATION Might BE OVERSTATED. JUST ASK LUCETTE ALAIS, A NATIVE OF UPSTATE nEW yORK WHOSE HARP STRUM CUT THE SILENCE AT DOWNTOWN cROSSING, WHERE the groaning trains were her only real competition.

“There could be 3 feet of snow, and you’re expected to go to work,” the 32-year-old said without pausing. “Since I’ve lived here, I thought it was strange that they close things.”

Workers who made the trek downtown found a strangely subdued scene, one that seemed to move in slow motion. As snow turned to a stinging sleet around midday, few ventured outdoors, and with a parking ban in effect, cars were scarce.

“It’s definitely dead,” said David Chin, who took an early morning train to his job in the Financial District. Like others who made their way to the office, he found many empty desks and no lines for coffee or lunch.

With so many people huddled at home, the city felt smaller, more manageable. For Nancy Whitcomb, the storm gave her lunchtime walk to Boston Common a rare solitude. For much of her walk, she encountered almost no one, she said.

Kathleen Newell, who commutes to the city from Norton, relished the quiet of an empty office, and understood why people chose to work at home if possible.

“This morning was bad,” she said of the roads.

Peter Judge, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency, said morning traffic was extremely light, as heavy snowfall made even major roads treacherous. At its height, the storm dropped as much as 2 inches per hour.

“People seem to be staying off the road and letting the plows do their job,” he said.

Like the highways, the rails were lightly traveled Wednesday. At the JFK/UMass station, the platform was nearly empty, with only a few students in sight. On this day, the pigeons had the run of the place.

The Red Line drew little interest as it rumbled downtown before finally welcoming a few people at South Station and Downtown Crossing. Usually a hum of activity, Downtown Crossing had fallen desolate in the storm. Gone were the vendors hawking their wares outside of Macy’s. The underground doors were closed even though the store was open.

Along the narrow streets, stores were open but mostly empty. Jewelry store owners did not bother to fill display windows, so their felt stands sat lonely, bereft of rings and necklaces.

On Boylston Street in the Back Bay, the lunch rush felt more like Sunday brunch. At Parish Cafe, business was down sharply, to about 25 percent of what it usually is.

Many of the restaurant’s regulars can telecommute, said manager Anna Flesher. But others take a harder line and say, “If you can get out, you should come,” Flesher said.

“That’s what we had to do,” she added.

On that note, her bartender felt compelled to weigh in.

“Don’t even get me started about coming to work,” he said before rushing to hand a customer a drink. “We’re adults. We don’t get snow days.”

It is New England, after all, said Flesher, from South Carolina.

The storm left just over a foot of snow in some areas, including Douglas, Lunenburg, and Uxbridge. Temperatures were expected to remain below freezing, but without the frigid cold of recent weeks.

More snow is possible Sunday night and Monday, though the forecast is uncertain.

“There’s too much muddled discrepancy to give even a reasonable prediction,” said Alan Dunham, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Like many city destinations, the Boston Public Library was quiet Wednesday. But it was open, and that was what mattered to Wayne Lin and June Liu. The newlyweds got married Wednesday afternoon at Cambridge City Hall and were taking their wedding pictures on the library’s stairs.

With the storm coming, the couple spent Tuesday night checking websites to make sure a city hall would be open.

“Every hour,” said Liu, her husband at her side.

Adding to their worry, their photographer was coming from Pennsylvania, via bus, train, and subway.

“I think the snowstorm is following me, from Harrisburg to Philly to Boston,” Autumn Kern said, camera in hand.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Catalina Gaitan contributed to this report. Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Peter Schworm can be reached at peter.schworm@globe.com.
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