Northeast snowstorm hits; forecasters warn of blizzardlike conditions
A storm that forecasters warned could be a blizzard for the history books began clobbering the New York-to-Boston corridor Friday, grounding flights, closing workplaces and sending people rushing to get home ahead of a possible 1 to 3 feet of snow.
From New Jersey to Maine, shoppers crowded into supermarkets and hardware stores to buy food, snow shovels, flashlights and generators, something that became a precious commodity after superstorm Sandy in October. Others gassed up their cars. Across much of New England, schools closed well ahead of the first snowflakes.
“This is a storm of major proportions,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said. “Stay off the roads. Stay home.”
By Friday evening, Boston had just 2.5 inches of snow and New York City had just 2, but parts of Massachusetts had more than 6 inches, and Rhode Island had more than 8. The National Weather Service warned the worst was still to come from what’s being called Winter Storm Nemo.
The wind-whipped snowstorm mercifully arrived at the start of a weekend, which meant fewer cars on the road and extra time for sanitation crews to clear the mess before commuters in the New York-to-Boston region of roughly 25 million people have to go back to work. It also could mean a weekend cooped up indoors.
In heavily Catholic Boston, the archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent about attending Sunday Mass.
Halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, blizzard warnings were posted from parts of New Jersey to Maine. The National Weather Service said Boston could get close to 3 feet of snow by this evening, while most of Rhode Island could receive more than 2 feet, most of it falling overnight Friday into today. Connecticut was bracing for 2 feet, and New York City was expecting as much as 14 inches.
By Friday evening, the New York-to-Boston corridor was experiencing blizzardlike conditions, with blowing, swirling snow and freezing rain. Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries. Throughout the Northeast, more than 350,000 homes and business lost power, many in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Forecasters said wind gusts up to 75 mph could cause more widespread power outages and whip the snow into fearsome drifts. Flooding was expected along coastal areas still recovering from superstorm Sandy, which hit New York and New Jersey the hardest and is considered Jersey’s worst natural disaster.
Meteorologist Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground, said the winter storm was a collision of two storms and may end up among the Boston area’s Top 5 most intense.
It could break Boston’s all-time snowstorm record of 27.6 inches, set in 2003, forecasters said.
The storm also comes almost 35 years to the day after the Blizzard of ’78, a ferocious storm that dropped 27 inches of snow, packed hurricane-force winds and claimed dozens of lives.
Masters said the region could get a break from warmer air trailing behind that is expected to push temperature up to the 40s by Monday.
Drivers were urged to stay off the streets lest their cars get stuck, preventing snowplows and emergency vehicles from getting through. New York City ran extra commuter trains to help people get home before the brunt of the storm hit.
Amtrak stopped running trains in cities around the Northeast on Friday afternoon. Airlines canceled more than 4,300 flights through today, and New York City’s three major airports and Boston’s Logan Airport shut down.
Interstate 95 was closed to all but essential traffic in Rhode Island, where the governor said power outages remained the biggest threat.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick enacted a statewide driving ban for the first time since the Blizzard of ’78.
Hours before the ban went into effect at 4 p.m., long lines formed at gas stations, some of which were almost out of fuel.