Blizzard Cancels U.S. Flights, Threatens Snow in New York

A winter storm that has caused at least 2,000 U.S. flights to be scrubbed has triggered a blizzard warning in New York City and may drop more than 2 feet of snow on Boston, leaving thousands without power.

Snow started falling about 6 a.m. in New York, where a blizzard warning is in effect, 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, Joe Pollina, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York, said yesterday.

“We’re taking this storm very seriously and you should take this storm very seriously,” Jerome Hauer, commissioner of New York’s division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said yesterday. “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.”

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

National Grid Plc 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. As of 5:27 a.m. local time less than 50 people were without power, the authority’s website showed.

City Snow

“What we’re looking for in and around New York City is on average about a foot,” Pollina said. “Southern portions of the city, like Staten Island, may get 9 inches to a foot.”

Storm force to hurricane force winds are expected later today into tomorrow along the Massachusetts coastline with waves in excess of 30 feet (9 meters) in some areas, the National Weather Service said at 4:26 a.m. local time today. A hurricane force wind warning is in effect from today until 1 p.m. local time tomorrow, according to the Weather Service.

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

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. tomorrow.

Arctic Air

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

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a severe weather advisory late yesterday, suspending alternate side parking citywide through the weekend. The Staten Island Ferry will run on a modified schedule beginning this afternoon in anticipation of high winds, according to the advisory.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino canceled school across the city of 625,087 today 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. today, according to Governor Deval Patrick. Amtrak will end rail service out of Boston at 1:40 p.m.

Transit Shutdown

“I am telling people to get where you’ve got to go around noon on Friday because from there after, everything goes downhill,” Alan Dunham, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts, said yesterday. “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.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee dismissed nonessential state employees from work today with the permission of their supervisors.

More than 24 inches of snow are expected in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, 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,” Rob Carolan, owner and meteorologist of Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, New Hampshire, said yesterday. “Boston usually doesn’t see two feet of snow and it has a good chance of doing it this time around.”

Travel Waivers

United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., 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 for today, according to information tabulated by Bloomberg.

Newark Liberty International Airport was the most affected in the Tri-State region. The airport had 669 flight arrival and departure cancellations, as of 5:45 a.m. New York time, according to industry researcher FlightStats.com. United Airlines was the most affected airline, with 254 flights canceled, followed by ExpressJet with 204.

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 mph to 70 mph across the region there is a good chance lines and trees will topple, he said.

Power Outages

“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.”

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

Utilities from New Jersey to Massachusetts similarly urged customers to build up enough supplies to endure long blackouts. Blizzards and ice storms 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 yesterday in an e-mail.

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 yesterday in an interview.

Off Switch

Connecticut’s power utilities predict the snowstorm will knock out service to 10 percent of customers, state Governor Dannel Malloy said during a news briefing yesterday. Government offices will be open today, he said.

“We are presuming that we will be open at the moment,” Malloy said. “We’re also presuming that we’ll have early dismissal.”

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 today, Michael Durand, a spokesman, said in a message yesterday. 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 that the power system is “in top working condition,” he said.

Public Service also has repaired all equipment damaged by Sandy, Snodgrass said.

Dangerous Travel

As the storm intensifies it is expected to produce bands of snow that will make travel dangerous and difficult, Tim Morrin, a weather service meteorologist, said yesterday. The snow may accumulate at 3 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 roadways 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.

Hints of the storm’s strength are apparent in the two major weather 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’s probable that thunder storms will be embedded in the blizzard as it crosses New England.

(Updates with storm warning in seventh paragraph.)
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