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Winter storm blasts U.S. mid-Atlantic days before spring

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A late winter storm landed a final punch on the U.S. mid-Atlantic states on Monday, dumping more than a foot of snow in some places, shutting schools and federal offices and cancelling flights.

Traditional green worn on St. Patrick's Day was hidden under the winter coats of children enjoying one more sledding day and of road crews manning plows ahead of the official start of spring on Thursday.

No change in the cold weather in the eastern United States is likely for the next week, said meteorologist Brian Korty of the National Weather Service.

"You're going to see oscillations in the temperature but I think on the whole the temperature is still going to probably stay below average," he said.

He said a few snow flurries would linger until the afternoon, but the storm that hit Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and southern New Jersey had largely moved out to sea.

The storm dumped 7 inches of snow on Washington, the second-heaviest snowfall the capital has recorded this late in the season, Korty said.

Hundreds of thousands of federal government employees were ordered to stay home in the Washington area. Schools, colleges and local governments shut throughout the affected region.

An intercity commercial bus with 58 passengers aboard veered off the snowy Interstate 95 highway about 30 miles south of Washington early on Monday and flipped onto its side, Virginia State Police said in a statement.

Four passengers on the Princess Tours Inc bus suffered serious injuries. The driver has been charged with reckless driving, and a police spokeswoman said, "The speed was too fast for the road conditions."

The highest snowfall recorded was 13.5 inches in Singers Glen, Virginia, about 130 miles west of Washington. In the midst of the storm on Monday, Virginia State Police had recorded 359 traffic crashes and 228 disabled vehicles.

In Philadelphia, where 4.5 inches fell, Frank Barder, 59, said the snow had cut into his regular landscaping business even though he had worked plowing and salting 15 times during a long, cold winter.

"I've been waving the white flag for the last couple of weeks," said Barder.

Snow and ice snarled travel at the start of the work week, with about 750 flights canceled and 1,600 delayed, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks air flights.

The most severe impact was at Washington's Reagan National Airport, where runways were briefly closed as crews cleared snow.

Even as snow hit the eastern United States, much of the Great Plains, New Mexico and Arizona were under a National Weather Service warning for potential fires fueled by dry weather, above-normal temperatures and gusty winds.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Scott Malone and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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