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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blizzard wallops

Blizzard wallops US Northeast, closes roads

February 09, 2013
A couple makes their way across the Brooklyn Bridge through snow and wind in New York. — Reuters pic
NEW YORK, Feb 9 — A blizzard slammed into the north-eastern United States last night, snarling traffic, disrupting thousands of flights and prompting five governors to declare states of emergency in the face of a fearsome snowstorm.  Forecasters warned that about 60 cm of snow would blanket most of the Boston area with some spots getting as much as 76 cm. New York was due to get about 30 cm in some areas, while heavy snowfall was also expected in Connecticut and Maine.
Winds were blowing at 56 to 64 km per hour by yesterday afternoon and forecasters expected gusts up to 97 kph as the evening wore on.
Driving conditions were treacherous. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick took the rare step of announcing a ban on most car travel starting yesterday afternoon, while Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy closed the state’s highways to all but emergency vehicles.
As the evening wore on and the snow piled up, mass transit was also affected.
In New York City, transit officials said “suspensions in service remain a strong possibility,” and Metro-North Railroad suspended some of its commuter rail service at 10 pm.
The Long Island Rail Road partially suspended service on its Montauk branch.
The blizzard left about 10,000 customers along the East Coast without power, and some 3,500 flights were cancelled.
“We’re seeing heavier snow overspread the region from south to north,” said Lance Franck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, outside Boston. “As the snow picks up in intensity, we’re expecting it to fall at a rate of upwards of two to three inches per hour.”
Early yesterday evening, officials warned that the storm was just ramping up to full strength, and that heavy snow and high winds would continue through midday today. The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine declared states of emergency and urged people to stay indoors.
In many cases, authorities ordered non-essential government workers to stay home, urged private employers to do the same, told people to prepare for power outages and encouraged them to check on elderly or disabled neighbours.
People appeared to take the warnings seriously. Traffic on streets and ridership on public transportation was significantly lighter than usual yesterday.
“This is a very large and powerful storm, however we are encouraged by the numbers of people who stayed home today,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told reporters.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested the storm created an opportunity to relax and catch up on sleep.
Even so, the storm caused a few accidents, including a 19-vehicle pile-up outside Portland, Maine, that sent one person to the hospital.
The storm wasn’t bad news for everyone.
When told an estimated 20 to 25 cm of snow was predicted overnight at Elk Mountain in Uniondale, Pennsylvania, pint-sized skier Sophia Chesner’s eyes grew wide.
“Whoa!” said the 8-year-old from Moorestown, New Jersey, who was on a ski vacation with her family. Her sister, Giuliana, 4, said no matter how good the skiing was, she had other priorities once the snow piled up.
“First thing I’m going to do is build a snowman and look for a Sasquatch footprint,” Guiliana Chesner said.
Life was not as rosy for those who planned to fly. In addition to yesterday’s cancellations, more than 1,200 flights scheduled for Saturday were scratched, according to the website
The storm also posed a risk of flooding at high tide to areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy last October.
“Many of the same communities that were inundated by Hurricane Sandy’s tidal surge just about 100 days ago are likely to see some moderate coastal flooding this evening,” said Bloomberg.
Brick Township in New Jersey had crews out building up sand dunes and berms ahead of a forecast storm surge, said Mayor Stephen Acropolis.
Travel became more difficult as the day progressed.
Amtrak suspended railroad service between New York, Boston and points north on Friday afternoon.
Organisers of the country’s championship sledding race, which had been scheduled to get underway in Camden, Maine, today, postponed the event by one day. Some 400 teams were registered for the race, which features costumed sledders on a 121-meter chute.
“As soon as the weather clears on Saturday and it is safe, the toboggan committee will be out at Tobogganville cleaning up the chute as quickly as they can,” said Holly Edwards, chairwoman of the US National Toboggan Championships.
“It needs to be shovelled out by hand.” — Reuters

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