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“Historic” east coast winter storm to play havoc on weekend travel

Feb 07, 2013 7:09 pm

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Latest number of cancelled flights are now closer to 2,300 for Saturday, according to FlightAware stats.

— Rafat Ali

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JFK in snow, a site likely to start from tomorrow morning and continue over the weekend. Luke Stearns / Flickr.com


A “historic” 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 will start early tomorrow 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, New York.

“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.”

Jerome Hauer, New York State’s homeland security commissioner, Thomas Prendergast, interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Joan McDonald, New York Transportation Commissioner, speak at a news conference about preparations for the winter storm expected to hit the New York area beginning Friday.

The snow will probably spread through Connecticut and Rhode Island by midmorning and reach Boston by early afternoon, said Carl Erickson, an expert senior meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. 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 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,” Pollina said. “Southern portions of the city, like Staten Island, may get 9 inches to a foot.”

Interstate 95

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

Transit Shutdown

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which runs the city’s buses, commuter rail and subways, will close at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, according to Governor 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, Massachusetts. “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, Rhode Island, according to the weather service.

“For Boston, this is going to be a top-five storm, this could come in at Number 3 all-time in records going back to the 1880s,” said Rob Carolan, owner and meteorologist of Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, New Hampshire. “Boston usually doesn’t see 2 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 tomorrow, according to information tabulated by 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 gusting from 50 mph 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, Public Service Enterprise Group’s PSE&G utility in New Jersey said in a statement.

‘Three Days’

“Depending on the severity of the storm, outage could last for one to three days,” Kristine Snodgrass, a spokeswoman for the company, said today 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 today in an interview.

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 tomorrow, Michael Durand, a spokesman, said in an 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 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, said Tim Morrin, a weather service meteorologist. The snow may accumulate at 3 inches per hour, causing conditions to deterioriate 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 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 its probably that thunder storms will be embedded in the blizzard as it crosses New England.

–With assistance from Annie Linskey in Boston; Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta; Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas; and Freeman Klopott in Albany. Editors: Richard Stubbe, Dan Stets

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net; Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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