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Snowstorm hits NYC, Boston; 1 to 3 feet feared

Published February 8, 2013 6:57 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A storm that forecasters warned could be a blizzard for the history books, with a potential for up to 3 feet of snow, clobbered the New York-to-Boston corridor on Friday, grounding flights and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers across the Northeast.

By Friday evening, more than 14 inches of snow had fallen in Belmont, Mass., just northwest of Boston, and more than 13 inches covered parts of northeastern Connecticut. Throughout the Northeast, about 350,000 homes and businesses lost electricity as wet, heavy snow, freezing rain and howling winds caused havoc.

Earlier, as meteorologists warned of the impending blizzard conditions, shoppers from New Jersey to Maine 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, another lesson learned all too well after Sandy. 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."

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. But it could also mean a weekend cooped up indoors.

Rainy Neves, a mother of two in Cambridge, just west of Boston, did some last-minute shopping at a grocery store, filling her cart to the brim.

"Honestly, a lot of junk — a lot of quick things you can make just in case lights go out, a lot of snacks to keep the kids busy while they'd be inside during the storm, things to sip with my friends, things for movies," she said. "Just a whole bunch of things to keep us entertained."

In heavily Catholic Boston, the archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent about attending Sunday Mass and reminded them that, under church law, the obligation "does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation."

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 Saturday evening, while most of Rhode Island could receive more than 2 feet, most of it falling overnight Friday into Saturday. Connecticut was bracing for 2 feet, and New York City was expecting as much as 14 inches. East of New York City, nearly a foot of snow had fallen before midnight Friday.

Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries. Most of the region's power outages were in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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 ever.

"When you add two respectable storms together, you're going to get a knockout punch with this one," he said.

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.

"It's going to be not that difficult to dig out, compared to maybe some other nor'easters in the past, where it stayed cold after the storm went through," he said.

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 Saturday, 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.

"With tree branches laden with heavy, wet snow, the winds picking up and the temperatures plunging all at the same time, it's a bad combination," Gov. Lincoln Chafee said.

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.

James Stone said he was saving the remaining regular gas at his station in Abington, south of Boston, for snowplow drivers.

"It hasn't snowed like this in two years," Stone said. "Most people are caught way off-guard."

In New York, Fashion Week, a series of designer showings with some activities held under tents, went on mostly as scheduled, though organizers put on additional crews to deal with the snow and ice, turned up the heat and fortified the tents. The snow did require some wardrobe changes: Designer Michael Kors was forced to arrive at the Project Runway show in Uggs.

For Joe DeMartino, of Fairfield, Conn., being overprepared was impossible: His wife was expecting their first baby Sunday. He stocked up on gas and food, got firewood ready and was installing a baby seat in the car. The couple also packed for the hospital.

"They say that things should clear up by Sunday. We're hoping that they're right," he said.

Said his wife, Michelle: "It adds an element of excitement."

The snow was too much of a good thing in some places. In New Hampshire, the University of Connecticut's Skiing Carnival was canceled because of the snowstorm. In Maine, the National Toboggan Championships in Camden were postponed from Saturday to Sunday, and the Camp Sunshine Polar Plunge was put off until March.

At Rosie's Liquors in Abington, customers were lined up eight to 10 deep Friday, snapping up rum, wine and 30-packs of beer.

"We've been absolutely slammed. It's almost been like Christmas here," manager Kristen Brown said. "A lot of people are saying, 'I'm going to be stuck with my family all weekend. I need something to do.'" —

A state-by-state look at the Northeast blizzard

A look at effects in states and provinces in the path of the storm sweeping across the Northeast and southern Canada:

CONNECTICUT

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy imposed a travel ban Friday on the state's highways and deployed National Guard troops around the state for rescues or other emergencies.

A coastal flood warning was posted for southern Fairfield County, saying Friday evening's high tide could be 3 to 5 feet higher than normal in western Long Island Sound.

The state's two biggest utilities planned for the possibility that up to 30 percent of their customers — more than 400,000 homes and businesses — would lose power. As of Friday night, 23,000 had no service.

Nonessential state workers were ordered to stay home Friday. Schools, colleges and state courthouses were also closed. All flights after 1:30 p.m. at Bradley Airport near Hartford were canceled. Connecticut Transit ceased all bus service by 6 p.m. Friday.

Some gas stations ran out of fuel Thursday night during the rush to prepare for the storm.

———

MAINE

State offices closed early Friday as the storm that contributed to a 19-car pileup in Cumberland that took four hours to clear.

Registration and practice runs for the National Toboggan Championships were held Friday as scheduled, but Saturday's races were postponed for a day.

Up to 2 feet of snow was forecast along the southern coast, with lesser amounts across the rest of the state.

———

MASSACHUSETTS

Forecasters said the storm could top Boston's record of 27.6 inches, set in 2003.

Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and ordered a statewide travel ban, believed to be the first since the blizzard of 1978.

Emergency management officials reported 191,000 utility customers without power Friday night, while Boston's transit system was shut down along with Logan Airport. Flights were expected to restart Saturday afternoon.

The Steamship Authority suspended all ferry service between Nantucket and Hyannis, and between Martha's Vineyard and Woods Hole.

On Cape Cod, shelters opened at high schools in Sandwich, South Yarmouth, Eastham and Falmouth after a flood warning was issued; as much as 2 feet of snow is expected.

Harvard University's Hasty Pudding roast for Golden Globe-winning actor Keifer Sutherland took place Friday evening in Cambridge despite the storm.

———

NEW HAMPSHIRE

A blizzard warning is in effect through 4 p.m. Saturday for portions of the state. Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency but stopped short of ordering everyone off the roads.

Hundreds of schools were closed Friday, airlines canceled flights and sporting and civic events were postponed. A storm-related crash in Auburn killed a man who lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree, fire officials said.

State-run liquor stores were slated to close at 6 p.m. Friday to encourage people to get off the roads by 7 p.m., when the storm is supposed to intensify.

Backcountry hikers were of high-mountain whiteout conditions and 80 mph to 90 mph gusts.

———

NEW JERSEY

A blizzard warning for northeast New Jersey called for as much as 14 inches of snow. Up to 10 inches were possible for most of the state, with 2 to 5 inches in south Jersey.

Although assuring residents the state had the resources to keep roads and bridges passable, Gov. Chris Christie urged everyone to just stay home.

Parts of the coast were expected to see waves up to 12 feet and minor to moderate flooding during high tide. Brick Township and Toms River, which were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, issued voluntary evacuation orders for areas still recovering from that storm.

The blizzard zone included the state's largest city, Newark, with a population of more than 275,000. Mayor Cory Booker urged residents to prepare for widespread power failures.

NJ Transit said it would suspend service on its northern routes from 8 p.m. Friday through Saturday. Bus service north of Interstate 195, including into New York, was also suspended indefinitely.

———

NEW YORK

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency as snow fell heavily Friday afternoon, though officials took pains to assure residents that it would not be as bad as Superstorm Sandy.

About 2,300 flights were canceled and the state's airports were expected to close, Cuomo said. Regional transportation was still running and was expected to continue throughout the night.

In New York City, where 8 to 12 inches were expected, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to clear the streets of cars and people so 1,700 city plows could get to work; drivers were expected to work 12-hour shifts. Amtrak canceled service north of the city.

New York closed Interstate 84 to truck traffic between Pennsylvania and Connecticut. A 74-year-old man died after being struck by a car in Poughkeepsie; the driver said she lost control in the snowy conditions, police said.

Snowfall predictions were 10 to 15 inches in the lower Hudson Valley and 12 to 16 inches on Long Island. Depths of 6 to 18 inches were forecast upstate.

About 9,000 customers were without power statewide Friday night, mostly on Long Island.

———

ONTARIO

At least 350 traffic collisions were reported in Toronto, and at least three people died in southern Ontario.

Many flights were canceled in Toronto, some of them because destination airports in the United States were closed by the snow.

———

PENNSYLVANIA

The storm was predicted to bring a mixture of rain, snow and ice to the state.

In the Pocono Mountains, where more than a foot of snow could fall, schools were closed or dismissed early, and flights were canceled at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Airport. Snow fell at a rate of 1 to 1 1/2 inches an hour in some areas Friday evening, turning major arteries in northeastern Pennsylvania slushy or snow-covered.

Farther south, more than a hundred flights were canceled out of Philadelphia Airport. The city was forecast to get 2 to 5 inches of snow.

Utility companies reported about 1,200 customers without power by Friday night.

———

RHODE ISLAND

Utility companies reported about 122,000 customers without power Friday night but conditions were only expected to get worse as the state braced for up to 2 feet of snow.

Interstate 95 and other major highways were closed to traffic and transportation officials limited commercial traffic on the Newport Pell Bridge because of winds gusting more than 60 mph.

About 100 state plows were already out on the roads, bolstered by 200 private contractors, officials said.

Nonessential state workers were sent home Friday afternoon. Many schools closed and transit service was suspended at noon Friday. The last plane left T.F. Green Airport near Providence just before 1:30 p.m. Friday; no other flights were scheduled to leave until Saturday.

———

VERMONT

The storm was blamed for a multiple-vehicle accident and a series of other crashes on Interstate 89 in Bolton and South Burlington. Hundreds of schools were closed.

Northern Vermont is expected to get 4 to 8 inches of snow by Saturday morning, while central and southeastern parts of the state could get 8 to 16 inches.

Nearly 6 inches of snow had fallen by early Friday afternoon at Mad River Glen ski area in Fayston, according to a spokesman who said a total of 18 inches was possible.