Powerful blizzard hammers US Northeast, snarling travel

Reuters
High winds and heavy snow barreled into the U.S. Northeast on Thursday, shutting schools and government offices, leaving tens of thousands without power and snarling travel.
Reuters
Reuters

High winds and heavy snow barreled into the U.S. Northeast on Thursday, shutting schools and government offices, leaving tens of thousands without power and snarling travel

High winds and heavy snow barreled into the US Northeast on Thursday, shutting schools and government offices, leaving tens of thousands without power and snarling travel as New York's JFK Airport halted flights due to whiteout conditions.

Thousands of flights were canceled, snow plows and salt trucks were omnipresent on roads and highways, and commuters who braved the storm to head in to their jobs hoped they would be able to make it home safely as the storm intensified later in the day.

Blizzard warnings were in place along the coast from North Carolina to Maine, with the National Weather Service forecasting winds as high as 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour) that may bring down tree limbs and knock out power.

More than a foot (30 cm) of snow was forecast for Boston and coastal areas in northern New England.

The storm is the product of a rapid plunge in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters are referring to as bombogenesis or a "bomb cyclone," which brings fast, heavy snowfall and high winds.

The wintry weather has been blamed for at least 13 deaths over the past few days, including three fatalities in North Carolina traffic accidents and three in Texas due to cold.

More than 3,300 U.S. airline flights were canceled ahead of the storm's arrival in the Northeast on Thursday. At New York's three major airports and Boston's Logan International, as many as three out of four flights were called off, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport temporarily halted all flights due to whiteout conditions, it said on its Twitter feed.

Passenger train operator Amtrak was running reduced service in the Northeast, while mass-transit systems in major metropolitan areas, including New York and Boston, remained open.

"I have a big meeting today, so I had to go in. If I didn’t, I probably would have stayed home," Ann Gillard, 24, said as she waited for a subway in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to take her into the downtown Boston office where she works as a consultant.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority invested extensively in equipment to remove snow and keep tracks from freezing after extensive disruptions during the winter of 2015, when Boston got about 9 feet (2.74 meters) of snow. But Gillard said her commute typically goes "not that well" in inclement weather.

"My plan is to leave at 4, right after my meeting, and, hopefully, it will be OK," she said, adding that her backup plan was to "walk home, probably. It's not that cold, it’ll just be snow."

In the Southeast, historic cities saw their heaviest snowfall in nearly 30 years on Wednesday, according to AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alan Reppert. Charleston, South Carolina, received 5.3 inches (13.46 cm) of accumulation, within an inch of its record, while Tallahassee, Florida saw its first measurable snow since 1989.

Federal government offices delayed opening for two hours on Thursday, while state officials in Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts ordered nonessential workers to stay home. In Maine, Governor Paul LePage ordered state offices closed for the day.

The snowstorm brought a break in extremely cold weather that has gripped much of the region since Christmas, frozen part of Niagara Falls, played havoc with public works and impeded firefighting in places where temperatures barely broke 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.7 Celsius).

Some 65,000 homes and businesses in the Northeast were without power early on Thursday, though that number was expected to rise as the storm intensifies across the region.

That raised fears that people would be left without power and heat on Friday and during the weekend when temperatures are forecast to drop sharply.

"We can handle snow," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. "It's snow plus the wind which is going to cause the trouble today. The wind is going to be high all through the day."

Schools were ordered closed in New York, many parts of New Jersey, Boston and elsewhere throughout the region.

The bombogenesis phenomenon occurs when a storm's barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. As a result, the accumulation of snow and winds intensifies, which can cause property damage and power outages.

Part of U.S. 13 at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia was closed due to high winds early on Thursday, while state transportation departments throughout the region reported dozens of delays due to deteriorating road conditions.

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