‘Historic’ Blizzard Cancels 2,900 Flights, Threatens Massive Snowfall

Thursday, 07 Feb 2013 08:07 PM

 

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A “historic” winter storm that has caused more than 2, 900 U.S. flights to be scrubbed has triggered a blizzard warning in New York City and may drop more than two feet of snow on Boston, leaving thousands without power.

Snow will start early Friday in New York, where the blizzard warning begins at 6 a.m., before changing to rain or sleet. The storm may bring 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow driven by gusts of 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour as it lashes the city into the night, said Joe Pollina, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, N.Y.

“We’re taking this storm very seriously and you should take this storm very seriously,” said Jerome Hauer, commissioner of New York’s division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. “This is a dangerous storm with a lot of blowing snow, and very significant winds that will make travel Friday night into Saturday almost impossible.”

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The snow will probably spread through Connecticut and Rhode Island by mid-morning and reach Boston by early afternoon, said Carl Erickson, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, Pa. The snow isn’t expected to change to rain in the New England states, which is why the accumulations will be higher, he said.

The utility company National Grid Plc expects more than 100,000 customers on Long Island to lose power, according to a statement on the Long Island Power Authority’s website.

“What we’re looking for in and around New York City is on average about a foot,” said Pollina. “Southern portions of the city, like Staten Island, may get nine inches to a foot.”

Erickson said the entire Interstate 95 corridor from New York to Maine will be covered with snow by Friday night.

Blizzard warnings stretch from Maine to New Jersey, and winter storm warnings and advisories reach south to West Virginia and west to Wisconsin. New York City’s blizzard warning is scheduled to end at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The forecast nor’easter is the product of two low-pressure systems expected to merge off the coast of the U.S. and combine with arctic air pumped in via the jet stream.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino canceled school across the city of 625,087 Friday and asked people to work at home.

“We have a significant storm heading this way,” Menino said at a city hall news conference. “Stay home, stay off the streets.”

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which runs the city’s buses, commuter rail and subways, will close at 3:30 p.m. Friday, according to Gov. Deval Patrick. Amtrak will end rail service out of Boston at 1:40 p.m.

“I am telling people to get where you’ve got to go around noon on Friday because from there after, everything goes downhill,” said Alan Dunham, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Mass. “The potential is there for this to be a historic winter storm for southern New England.”

Patrick has said he may order the state’s roads closed to make sure people stay off them.

More than 24 inches of snow are expected in Boston and Providence, R.I, according to the weather service.

“For Boston, this is going to be a top-five storm. This could come in at No. 3 all-time in records going back to the 1880s,” said Rob Carolan, owner and meteorologist of Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, N.H. “Boston usually doesn’t see two feet of snow and it has a good chance of doing it this time around.”

Editor’s Note: When the Power Goes Out, You Need This Radio. Get It With Special Offer.

United Continental, Delta Air Lines, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and other carriers issued travel waivers that allow passengers to change their plans without penalty. At least 2,000 flights have been canceled Friday, according to Bloomberg.

The snow that falls along the coast may be heavy and wet, sticking to tree branches and power lines like “plaster,” Carolan said. With gusts from 50 to 70 mph across the region there is a good chance lines and trees will topple, he said.

“There is the possibility of widespread power outages,” Dunham said. “People should go ahead and make sure they have batteries and go to the ATM and make sure they have some cash. Some of these power outages could be prolonged.”

Utilities from New Jersey to Massachusetts urged customers to stock bottled water as well as canned or dried food to endure long blackouts. Blizzards and ice storms block roads, impeding repair crews, the utility company PSE&G in New Jersey said in a statement.

“Depending on the severity of the storm, outages could last for one to three days,” PSE&G spokeswoman Kristine Snodgrass said Thursday in an email.

Connecticut Light & Power, a unit of Northeast Utilities and that state’s largest utility, hasn’t estimated low long blackouts may last, Tricia Taskey Modifica, a spokeswoman, said Thursday.

Boston utility NStar, another Northeast Utilities unit, is 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. It has ordered electrical line crews and tree-trimmers from six states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, he said.

“There’s no way to accurately predict the level of damage that will be caused by this or future storms,” Durand said.

All damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in October has been permanently repaired, so the power system is “in top working condition,” he said.

PSE&G also has repaired all equipment damaged by Sandy, Snodgrass said.

As the storm intensifies it is expected to produce bands of snow that will make travel dangerous and difficult, said Tim Morrin, a weather service meteorologist. The snow may accumulate at three inches per hour, causing conditions to deteriorate rapidly by dark.

Snow plows 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 arteries open.

Dunham said 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.

Editor’s Note: When the Power Goes Out, You Need This Radio. Get It With Special Offer.

Hints of the storm’s strength are apparent in the two major components, Carolan said. The southern segment is creating thunderstorms across the U.S. Gulf coast and the other portion is causing intense weather in the Midwest.

“That is usually indicative of the kind of energy you need to come up the coast,” Carolan said. “Once that hits the Atlantic, you have enough energy to produce what we call a bomb.”

Erickson said it is probable thunderstorms will be embedded in the blizzard as it crosses New England.

 

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