Storm Shuts Down Major East Coast Cities
SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — A blizzard with hurricane-force winds brought much of the East Coast to a standstill Saturday, dumping as much as 3 feet of snow, stranding tens of thousands of travelers and shutting down the nation's capital and its largest city.
After days of weather warnings, most of the 80 million people in the storm's path heeded requests to stay home and off the roads, which were largely deserted. But more was yet to come, with dangerous conditions expected to persist until early Sunday.
In addition to snow and treacherous winds, the National Weather Service predicted up to half an inch of ice for the Carolinas and potentially serious coastal flooding for the mid-Atlantic region.
"This is going to be one of those generational events, where your parents talk about how bad it was," Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, said from Tallahassee, Florida, which also got some flakes.
Snow fell from the Gulf Coast to New England. In nearly two dozen places, it passed the 20-inch mark by late morning, according to the weather service. Terra Alta, West Virginia, reported 28 inches.
Officials say three people have died while shoveling snow during the blizzard in New York City and two more died of hypothermia in Virginia, bringing weather-related deaths to at least 18.
The long-anticipated storm exceeded expectations, so forecasters increased their snow predictions for New York and points north.
The new estimates were for heavy snow all the way up to just south of Boston, forecaster Patrick Burke said from at the weather service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Eighteen to 24 inches were predicted for Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia; 24 to 30 inches for areas just north and west of Interstate 95 outside those two cities; and 15 to 20 inches for New York, Burke said.
"This is kind of a top 10 snowstorm," said weather service winter storm expert Paul Kocin, who co-wrote a two-volume textbook on blizzards. And for New York and Washington this looks like top 5, he said. "It's a big one."
By midday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a travel ban in New York City, ordering all non-emergency vehicles off the roads by mid-afternoon. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged Broadway theaters and restaurants to close. The city's commuter rails and above-ground segments of the subway were to shut down too, along with buses.
A travel ban has been extended in New York City amid a massive snowstorm that could leave as much as two feet of snow.
Mayor de Blasio says police will enforce the ban so that sanitation workers can clear the roads into the early morning hours.
De Blasio described the storm as "packing a lot of punch." He said officers would make arrests to keep roads clear for first responders if they had to.
Transit officials have shut down the above-ground portions of the Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road and city subway systems.
In Kentucky, where some places got 18 inches on Friday, hundreds of drivers on a long stretch of Interstate 75 south of Lexington were stranded overnight because of a string of crashes and blowing snow. Crews passed out snacks, fuel and water and tried to move cars one by one. Emergency shelters were opened.
Motorists also were reported stranded along pockets of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel in Somerset County. The National Guard was called to help, said turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo.
In the Washington metro area, nearly 2 feet of snow was on the ground by Saturday morning, and monuments that would normally be busy with tourists were mostly vacant. All mass transit was to be shut down through Sunday.
The snow alone would have been enough to bring the East Coast to a halt. But it was whipped into a maelstrom by winds that reached 75 mph at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, according to the weather service.
From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30 mph and gusted to around 50 mph, Burke said.
The wind was so strong that scientists reported trouble measuring the snowfall.
And if that weren't enough, the storm had bursts of thunder and lightning. Forecasters saw lightning out the window of the Weather Prediction Center, where meteorologists were camped out.
Even before the snow began to fall Friday afternoon, states of emergency were declared. Lawmakers went home, and schools, government offices and transit systems closed early from Georgia to New York.
The ice and snow made travel treacherous, causing thousands of accidents and canceling nearly 4,300 flights. Airlines hoped to be back in business by Sunday afternoon.