A winter storm sweeping through the U.S. has caused more than 2,800 flights to be canceled today and threatens to break snowfall records in Chicago, coat New York City in ice and add to Boston’s heaviest accumulations in years.
Snow had begun falling in Chicago as of 4:30 a.m. local time and the city could get close to two feet (61 centimeters), breaking a 44-year-old record. New York may receive 3 to 5 inches plus 0.3 of an inch of ice, according to Nelson Vaz, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York.
“It’s going to be a two-stage storm and the strongest punch will be late Tuesday night into Wednesday,” Vaz said by telephone. “Anytime you’re talking over a tenth of an inch to a quarter of an inch of ice, that can cause problems. It is going to be hazardous conditions.”
A blizzard warning stretched from Wisconsin to Oklahoma including Chicago yesterday, while winter storm warnings, watches and advisories covered the U.S. from Maine to New Mexico, according to the weather service. As of 11:30 p.m. East Coast time, 2,806 flights were canceled, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based firm that tracks flight data.
Another 1,865 flights were canceled for tomorrow, the majority of them from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, according to FlightAware.
Snow may fall in Chicago at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour and thunderstorms may accompany the system through the area, Samuel Shea, a weather service meteorologist, said in a briefing. As much as two feet of snow may fall in the Chicago area before the storm ends tomorrow, he said.
Less than an inch fell overnight, leaving a light dusting in the downtown at the start of the morning commute and roads largely clear.
Chicago’s heaviest snowstorm on record occurred Jan. 26-27, 1967, when 23 inches fell, according to weather service records. The most snow to fall on a single day since records began in 1886 was 18.6 inches on Jan. 2, 1999, the agency reported.
Yesterday, utilities across the U.S. prepared to respond to the storm.
“High winds and snow build-up can cause extensive damage to power lines,” Chicago’s Commonwealth Edison Company President and Chief Operating Office Anne Pramaggiore said in a statement. “While we can’t prevent outages during such intense weather, our crews are mobilized and prepared to work around the clock.”
Duke Energy in Indiana, which provides electricity to 780,000 customers, was readying crews and making arrangements to call in personnel from other areas to restore any potential power outages, according to a statement post on its Website.
The New York City Office of Emergency Management advised commuters their journey may be difficult through tomorrow night. Anyone driving should keep the details of a towing company with them in the car, according to the statement issued yesterday.
Manhattan appeared snow-free at the start of the commute.
In Boston, more than a foot of snow may fall in the two- part storm, said Matt Doody, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts. Weather forecasters were using Interstate-90, a major highway linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as a boundary for the heaviest snowfall, he said.
Higher amounts of snow are likely to fall north of the highway, he said. South of the road, snow is likely to change to sleet and freezing rain, which will keep accumulations down.
“Anywhere up to a foot is possible for the Boston metropolitan area,” Doody said. Since Dec. 1, Boston has received 60.3 inches of snow, which is 40.2 inches above normal, according to the weather service.
“A storm of this size and scope needs to be taken seriously,” Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an e-mail yesterday. “Already this winter we’ve seen how snow and ice can knock out power and affect transportation. If you haven’t already, take steps now to get your homes and families ready, and be sure to check on your neighbors, especially the elderly and young children -- those who can be most vulnerable during emergencies.”
The storm will move off the U.S. East Coast by tomorrow night, Doody said.
The weather system features a warm front and wave of low pressure developing south of New York and depositing light snow, sleet and freezing rain, followed tomorrow by a low tracking close to the region and bringing heavier snow, according to meteorologist Rob Carolan at Hometown Forecast Services.
After it leaves, Arctic air is expected to drop down into the central part of the country and may even threaten Houston with freezing rain by the end of the week, according to the weather service.
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