Blizzard cancels flights, threatens historic snowfall in Northeast cities

Posted Feb. 08, 2013, at 3:59 p.m.

BOSTON — A stinging, wind-whipped snow swept the streets of Boston as a winter storm bore down on the Northeast, causing 4,000 flights to be canceled, closing roads and threatening to leave hundreds of thousands in the dark without power.

In New York City, light snow mixed with rain was expected to change to all snow after dark, when it may start piling up as high as a foot, said Tim Morrin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, N.Y. As much as 20 inches of snow was expected to fall across eastern Long Island and Connecticut beginning Friday night.

Boston and Providence, R.I., are expected to receive more than 2 feet of snow by Saturday night, according to the weather service. Some areas may receive as much as 30 inches. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ordered roads closed, except for emergency vehicles, at 4 p.m. Violators face fines and a year in jail.

“I want to be clear — 2 or 3 feet of snow in this period of time is a profoundly different type storm than we’ve had to deal with,” Patrick said Friday in an underground bunker at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in Framingham. The storm will bring “extremely dangerous conditions” and “the recovery will be very slow,” he said.

Rail service between Boston and New York stopped after 1:40 p.m., Amtrak said. Passenger railroad also was suspended from Boston to Albany, N.Y., and Portland, Maine. Trains out of Springfield, Mass., were canceled after 10:30 a.m. Service south of New York City wasn’t affected.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which runs Boston’s commuter rail, buses and subways, will shut down at 3:30 p.m. Air service between Boston and New York was suspended. About 4,000 flights have been canceled through tomorrow, according to FlightAware.com, a Houston-based tracking firm.

“About 4:30 or 5 o’clock, there will be about 3 inches of snow across southern New England and then it goes to town after that,” said Rob Carolan, owner and meteorologist of Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, N.H.

Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey was the most affected in the Tri-State region, with 693 cancellations as of 12:40 p.m. New York time. John F. Kennedy International Airport had 542 and LaGuardia had 569, FlightAware.com said. United led cancellations with 900, while Delta had 740, JetBlue Airways Corp. had 640 and American scrapped 450.

Winds are expected to gust 60 mph or more across a large part of the Northeast at the height of the storm, the weather service said. Visibility may be reduced to under a quarter of a mile.

Blizzard warnings stretch from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into the United States from Maine to Newark, N.J., according to the weather agencies in both countries. Winter storm warnings reach north into Quebec, west to Michigan and south to Virginia.

As the storm intensifies, it probably will create bands of heavy snow falling at rate that may reach 4 inches per hour in some places, Morrin said. Forecasters are unable to predict where these events will occur, just the likelihood that they will happen, because existing technology doesn’t allow that level of precision, he said.

The bands, spanning about 10 to 20 miles, are caused by lifting in the atmosphere and will form along a north-south axis during this storm, Morrin said. They may stay over a specific area for hours at a time.

“In the bands is where we would expect the whiteout conditions and the most intense snowfall,” he said.

National Grid forecasts that more than 100,000 customers on Long Island will lose power, according to a statement on the Long Island Power Authority’s website.

About 12,000 homes and businesses were blacked out from South Carolina to Maine and as far west as Tennessee at about 12:30 p.m. Friday, according to reports on utility websites compiled by Bloomberg.

New England’s power-grid operator asked utilities and power generators to halt any routine maintenance that could increase the risk of blackouts during the storm.

Extra trains were running on Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road to help New York City commuters get home Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a severe weather advisory late Thursday, suspending alternate-side parking citywide through the weekend.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommended that residents and visitors in the Northeast stock up on clean water and nonperishable foods and prepare for “intense cold.”

Long outages may occur if snow and ice block roads, impeding repair crews, Public Service Enterprise Group’s PSE&G utility in New Jersey said in a statement.

“Depending on the severity of the storm, the outage could last for one to three days,” Kristine Snodgrass, a spokeswoman for the company, said Thursday in an email.

Connecticut’s power utilities predict the snowstorm will knock out service to 10 percent of customers, Gov. Dannel Malloy said during a news briefing Thursday.

Boston utility NStar, another Northeast Utilities unit, were moving crews, trucks and replacement poles and wires to Cape Cod and the island of Martha’s Vineyard, expecting travel will be difficult Friday, Michael Durand, a spokesman, said in a message Thursday. It has ordered electrical line crews and tree- trimmers from six states including Wisconsin and Georgia.

Snowplows can’t keep up with accumulations of more than an inch an hour, Carolan said. All that cities and towns can do then is try to keep major roadways open.

Roads that run from west to east, such as the Massachusetts Turnpike, also known as Interstate 90, will be hard to keep open because the wind will be blowing the snow across the pavement, Alan Dunham, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Mass., said yesterday.

The snow will begin to end starting in New York by Saturday afternoon, Morrin said. It’s possible people in New York and Long Island actually may see the sun then.

With assistance from Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta, Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas, Freeman Klopott in Albany, N.Y., Lynn Doan in San Francisco, Rupert Rowling in London and Karen Goldfarb in New York.

 

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