Swift winter storm whips New York with snow, snarling travel

Work crews dump road salt during a snowstorm in Times Square in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

A fast-moving winter storm, whipping the Northeast with blinding snow, has grounded more than 3,000 flights, prompted states of emergency in parts of New York and New Jersey and closed schools from Philadelphia to Boston.

Manhattan could get as much as 9 inches of snow by late Thursday, and Boston could see 14 inches, the National Weather Service said. At 7 a.m., the storm was off the Virginia coast and getting stronger by the hour, said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“There is moderate to heavy snow from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, all the way down to New York City,” said Rob Carolan, a meteorologist at Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. “The worst is between now and 2 p.m. in New York, and now and 5 p.m. in Boston.”

Winter storm warnings cover parts of 13 eastern states, while blizzard warnings blanket the U.S. coast from North Carolina to Maine, including New Jersey, Long Island and Boston. Governors in several states have declared emergencies. On Wednesday, the storm brought snow as far as south as Florida. Charleston, South Carolina, got 5.3 inches.

About 72,000 homes and businesses were blacked out as of 11 a.m. New York time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from utility websites. More than half were in Virginia Beach and the surrounding area, according to utility owner Dominion Energy Inc.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. “Unless it’s essential for you to be out and using the roads today you should not be,” he said at a news conference.

New Jersey closed its state offices and declared emergencies in Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties. Massachusetts told non-essential state workers to stay home.

As of 10 a.m., 3,168 flights around the U.S. were canceled, with airports in New York, New Jersey and Boston hardest hit, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. Amtrak had cut back on train service between Boston and New York, according to a statement.

Traffic was uncharacteristically light on the wind-tossed streets of of Midtown Manhattan, and subways were emptier than normal as many commuters opted to stay home.

The Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad were reporting delays on commuter lines. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority canceled ferry service in Boston Harbor and was running commuter trains on a reduced schedule. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported delays and service changes on more than a dozen subway lines. Bus service to and from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan may be delayed as much as 30 minutes, New Jersey Transit said.

Ahead of an incoming winter snow storm, a Jet Blue flight waits to take off from Logan International Airport next to the frozen waters of the Atlantic Ocean harbour between Winthrop and Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

High winds brought on near whiteout conditions in much of Long Island.

In addition to the snow, coastal areas are at risk for flooding, the weather service said. Tides in New York could run about 18 inches higher than normal, putting parts of Queens and Staten Island particularly at risk until about noon, Faye Morrone, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York, said.

Tides could run even higher along the Massachusetts coastline just after midday Thursday, the weather service said.

The storm, as predicted, has been getting more powerful, a process called bombogenesis, which means its central pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

“The pressure has dropped tremendously, 21 millibars in six hours, so it is really going to town off the Mid-Atlantic coast now,” Oravec said.

One bright spot might be the storm’s speed, Carolan said. Unlike past historic blizzards that caused billions in damage from flooding and snowfall, this storm won’t stick around.

“It is moving very, very quickly. It is in and out, which is good news because it is going to limit the potential damage,” Carolan said. “It only gets one tide cycle” to bring its worst to the coast.

The speed of the storm could even hold down total snowfalls, he said. It’s possible New York won’t reach the 9 inches forecasted by meteorologists.

As the storm moves north into Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia could get pummeled with heavy snow, high winds and damaging surf, according to Environment Canada. In the U.S., the storm will give way to plunging temperatures from the Great Plains to the East Coast.

“There is a lot of potential for records being broken Friday and Saturday,” said Gregg Gallina, a forecaster with the Weather Prediction Center.

Lows in Florida could drop into the 30s as the cold sweeps across the eastern U.S., Carolan said. In New York and the rest of the Northeast, the low temperatures and high winds will make the air feel as cold as 30 degrees below zero.

Ice begins to collect at the base of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Lynett
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