Powerful winter storm brings whipping winds and heavy snow to the Northeast
By Jesse McKinley
Packing raking winds, blinding snows and piercing cold, a powerful, fast-moving winter storm roared up the East Coast on Saturday, bringing power outages, disrupted travel and general misery to millions of residents from the Carolinas to Maine.
The worst of the storm was felt across the Northeast, particularly in New England, where gusting winds blew snow sideways, while flood-prone coastal areas watched warily as a storm surge pounded beaches and sea walls.
Power outages were still affecting nearly 90,000 Massachusetts residents as of Saturday night, and broader blackouts remained an ongoing concern with high winds threatening to snap snow-covered branches and cripple power lines as the storm churned offshore.
“It’s a classic blizzard,” said Glenn Field, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton, Massachusetts, which noted that some areas in the state had received 3-4 inches of snow per hour Saturday morning, according to radar estimates. Heavy snow continued through the afternoon, with wind gusts of more than 70 mph in some locations, creating whiteout conditions.
Indeed, the tempest’s intensity and drifting snow made even measuring the accumulation difficult, although the storm was shaping up to be the biggest of the season in some regions, and maybe one of the biggest in decades. Field said up to 30 inches of snow was possible in coastal areas, potentially smashing a 2003 record for Boston of more than 27 inches.
The wicked weather may have also claimed more than one life. In Nassau County, east of New York City, police were investigating the death of an elderly woman found dead inside her car at around 2:45 a.m., with at least one of the car’s windows open. And in Toms River, New Jersey, a man went into cardiac arrest and died while operating a snowblower, according to Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy.
The intense storm was characterized as a “bomb cyclone,” in which barometric pressure drops rapidly over 24 hours, producing high winds. As storms such as this one move over coastal waters, they pick up moisture, resulting in heavy snow.
The storm’s speed and ferocity, predicted for days, were being felt up and down the Interstate 95 corridor. There was significant snowfall in Southern cities such as Asheville, North Carolina, and bitter cold was predicted overnight in locales such as Charleston, South Carolina, part of a Southern cold snap.
In Massachusetts, there was coastal flooding Saturday afternoon on Cape Cod and in the streets of Nantucket, where gusts more akin to those in a tropical storm were felt. Nantucket officials and American Red Cross volunteers had opened an emergency warming shelter at the high school as power outages persisted and temperatures dipped. Emergency centers were also open on the Cape, and ferries to and from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard had been canceled as of Saturday.
Blizzard conditions — the blinding combination of snow and wind — were already confirmed in at least four states, including Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
In Boston, the storm was drawing comparisons to the Blizzard of ’78, which buried the city in more than 2 feet of snow and caused serious flooding. Boston residents seemed to be holing up or battening down, although one group of about a dozen diners could be seen brunching — and drinking mimosas — at Frenchie, a restaurant on Tremont Street, despite the weather.
New York City seemed to have dodged the brunt of the storm, even as bands of snow and wind clobbered the Jersey Shore, eastern Long Island and Connecticut, and points north. In New York, by late afternoon, Islip, which is on Long Island, had gotten more than 2 feet, the most of any location in the tri-state area, followed in short order by Groton, Connecticut, and Bayville, New Jersey.
In Rhode Island, travel restrictions were in place until Saturday evening, with large trucks, except those carrying emergency supplies, barred from driving on all roads. Similar steps were taken in Connecticut, where Gov. Ned Lamont said some “terrible accidents” had occurred involving tractor-trailers. He pleaded with residents to stay off the road but praised their hardiness.
“This is New England,” he told CNN. “We are prepared for this.”
Governors in New Jersey and New York had preemptively declared states of emergency in expectation of the storm, even as airlines canceled nearly 2,000 flights at three major hubs — Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport — according to FlightAware, which tracks aviation data. Sunday was also looking like a bad travel day in the region as well, with more than 1,000 flights already canceled.
“We’re in throes of this nor’easter — it is a serious one,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a storm briefing Saturday morning, adding that the cold blast accompanying the storm, and the potential for loss of power, could be life-threatening. “You cannot have people in their homes without heat for any length of time.”
The storm could also be a boon for ski areas in the Northeast, many of which have not had enough snow this year to fully open their trails. Among them was Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire, where snow-making had been a challenge because of warmer temperatures. Sunapee had received about 6 inches by midday.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state had dispatched 3,000 pieces of equipment to clear roads and aid travelers. “It’s a statewide event, but the shore is getting clobbered,” he said on WCBS-TV, adding that the cleanup “won’t be overnight.”
On the eastern end of Long Island, residents were trying to soldier on, even as the snow continued to accumulate. Jens Lester, 78, a lifelong resident of Amagansett, said he had seen blizzards like this one before but remained worried about the power going out, because his generator, he discovered yesterday, wouldn’t start up.
Most winters, Lester said, he would be in Florida or the Caribbean, but the pandemic had made traveling difficult.
“I wish I was there now,” he said. “I think a lot of people do.”