NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: A monster blizzard that has paralyzed the US East Coast intensified yesterday afternoon as it barreled into New York City, prompting a travel ban on area highways as high winds whipped up record-setting tides in New Jersey and Delaware. After dumping nearly two feet (60 cm) of snow on the suburbs of Washington, DC, overnight, the storm unexpectedly gathered strength as it slammed into the New York metropolitan area, and forecasters bumped up snowfall predictions to up to 30 inches (76 cm) by today.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on all travel on New York City area roads, including on Long Island, except for emergency vehicles, as of 2:30 pm (1930 GMT). All bridges and tunnels into the city will also close, he said. Subways running above ground and trains operated by the Long Island Railroad and Metro North will stop service at 4 pm because snow falling at a rate of 3 inches per hour proved too much for plows on roads and railways, Cuomo said.
Broadway theaters canceled matinee and evening performances at the urging of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who warned that the storm may rank among the top five blizzards ever to hit the nation’s largest city. “We’re loving it. We definitely want to come back,” said Michelle Jones, 46, a mortgage company controller who had tickets to see “The Phantom of Opera” with her daughter. “We love the snow because we don’t get this in Atlanta,” she said, about an hour before the Broadway shutdown was announced.
Heavy snow bands were moving across Long Island, New York City and northeast New Jersey, with wind gusts of up to 80 kph, the National Weather Service said. New York City buses operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were suspended at noon. New Jersey Transit, earlier on Saturday, suspended all bus, rail and light rail service. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority took the rare step of suspending operations through Sunday.
More than 4,300 US flights were canceled, including virtually all travel into New York City airports, according to the FlightAware.com tracking website and transportation officials. Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York yesterday, becoming the 11th state to take the step. “Our message, and we need the public to listen, is to stay home and to stay off the streets. That includes people who are attempting to drive, but it also includes people who are walking,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.
However, some residents said they just could not resist seeing famous monuments frosted with snow. “We haven’t made snow angels yet, but we’re looking forward to doing that in front of the White House,” said Robert Bella Hernandez, 38. “We’re just going to walk around, see some snow covered D.C. landmarks. And then when it’s unsafe, maybe go back in for a minute.”
Higher Tides than During Sandy
High winds battered the entire region, reaching 70 mph in Wallops Island, Virginia, late on Friday, and whipping up the tides, said meteorologist Greg Gallina of the National Weather Service. Tides higher than those caused by Superstorm Sandy three years ago caused major flooding along the Jersey Shore and Delaware coast and set records in Cape May, New Jersey, and Lewes, Delaware, said NWS meteorologist Patrick O’Hara.
A high tide of 8.98 feet (2.74 m) was recorded at 7:51 am yesterday at Cape May – slightly higher than the record of 8.9 feet previously set by Sandy on Oct 29, 2012. A high tide of 9.27 feet was recorded at Lewes, higher than the 9.2 high tide recorded in March 1962. “All the factors that affect the tides, it’s all happening at once,” O’Hara said. Even so, there were no reports of evacuations along the New Jersey Shore, where thousands of residents had to abandon their homes during the devastating 2012 storm.
The barrier islands in Atlantic County were experiencing significant tidal flooding, said Linda Gilmore, the county’s public information officer, affecting Atlantic City and at least four other towns. While the county typically sees flooding during nor’easter storms, the current situation more dangerous than usual. Gilmore said the risk would grow more severe with each high tide through today morning, but at present it was too early to draw any comparisons with Sandy.
At least eight people were killed in car crashes due to icy roads in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, and a ninth person died of a heart attack while shoveling snow in Maryland. The Pennsylvania National Guard was called in to help stranded motorists along I-78 in the western part of the state, local media reported.
The worst appeared to be over for Washington, although moderate snow was expected to keep falling until late Saturday, with the deepest accumulation of 23 inches recorded in Poolesville, Maryland, north of the nation’s capital. Snowfall measured 13 inches near the White House and 3.5 inches near the National Mall yesterday morning, the NWS reported.
“Records are getting close – we’re getting into the top five storms,” Gallina said. The record high of 28 inches of snow in the nation’s capital was set in 1922 and the deepest recent snowfall was 17.8 inches in 2010. The storm developed along the Gulf Coast, dropping snow over Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky on Friday. On the East Coast, warm, moist air from the Atlantic Ocean collided with cold air to form the massive winter system, meteorologists said. The storm was forecast to move offshore in southern New England early next week. Philadelphia and New York were expected to get up to 18 inches of snow before the storm abated. – Reuters