Northeastern US gets clobbered by a sloppy late-season storm

2017-03-14 20:17
A pedestrian crosses as snow-covered intersection as snow falls in Jersey City, N.J. (Julio Cortez, AP)

A pedestrian crosses as snow-covered intersection as snow falls in Jersey City, N.J. (Julio Cortez, AP)

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New York — A sloppy, blustery late-season storm lashed the Northeast with sleet and more than 30cm of snow in some places on Tuesday, paralysing much of the Washington-to-Boston corridor after a remarkably mild February had lulled people into thinking the worst of winter was over.

The powerful nor'easter grounded nearly 6 000 flights, knocked out power to nearly a quarter-million customers from Virginia northward, closed schools in cities big and small and prompted dire warnings to stay off the roads. Amtrak suspended service and the post office halted mail delivery.

As the morning wore on, the storm track shifted slightly and snow switched to sleet in Philadelphia and New York, prompting forecasters to lift blizzard warnings for the two big cities and cut their prediction of 30cm or more of snow by over half.

But residents farther inland got clobbered. Towns along Pennsylvania's northern tier had nearly 40cm of snow before 09:00, while 30cm fell in the state capital of Harrisburg and nearly 61cm in the Pocono Mountains. Wantage Township, New Jersey, got at least 43cm.

"The winters seem to be upside down now. January and February are nice and then March and April seem to be more wintry than they were in the past," said Bob Clifford, who ventured out on an early morning grocery run for his family in Altamont, near Albany, New York.

His advice: "Just hide inside. Hibernate."

The above-ground portions of the New York subway system were shut down, and the flight cancellations included nearly 3 300 in the New York City area alone. Hundreds of passengers were stranded at airports.

Laura and Matthew Balderstone of West Yorkshire, England, intended to spend their honeymoon in Florida but found themselves stuck at the Newark, New Jersey, airport and couldn't find a hotel room.

"It's better safe than sorry, especially flying. I suppose it's a shame that we can't get another way around this. It's just the way it is, unfortunately," Matthew Balderstone said.

Roaming ponies

In the nation's capital, the federal government announced a three-hour delayed arrival for non-emergency employees, with an option to take the day off or telecommute.

The nor'easter came a week after the region saw temperatures climb into the 60s, and less than a week before the official start of spring.

A few days ago, workers on Washington's National Mall were making plan to turn on the fountains.

"Obviously all that has to come to an abrupt stop until we get all the snow cleared," said Jeff Gowen, the acting facility manager for the National Mall and Memorial Parks. "The cherry blossoms, they're right on the cusp of going into bloom here. I had a feeling this was going to happen."

In Narragansett, Rhode Island, high winds knocked down a state-owned wind turbine. In New York City, two homes under construction collapsed near the waterfront in Far Rockaway. No injuries were reported.

And two ponies broke free from their stables and roamed the snow-covered streets of Staten Island until an off-duty police officer noticed them. Employing straps normally used to tow cars, he wrangled the animals and tied them to a lamppost. They were taken back to the stables.

"We want to thank our cowboy officer," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

‘Everybody’s drinking’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and instructed non-essential state employees to stay home. In Massachusetts, where the forecast called for 30 to 46cm of snow, Governor Charlie Baker encouraged motorists to stay off the roads and to take public transit only if absolutely necessary, saying the fast snowfall rates would make driving hazardous.

The storm coincided with New Hampshire's traditional Town Meeting Day, when voters in more than 100 communities elect boards of selectman, library trustees and a host of other local positions, and in some locations, set their annual budgets.

Some towns postponed their elections because of the snow. But in Hopkinton, a steady stream of voters braved the blustery conditions to make it to the polls.

"You know, they're hardy New Englanders, and they're coming to vote," said Debbie Norris, a candidate for the Hopkinton Budget Committee.

At Rosie's Liquor & Deli in Abington business was steady as customers with the day off from work came in to buy something to get through the storm, including a woman who bought a bottle of champagne to bring to a friend's house.

"Nobody's working, so everybody's drinking," said store clerk Steve Correia.

Daily Show cancellation

Schools in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and elsewhere closed.

The heaviest snowfall was expected Tuesday morning through the afternoon, with as much as 5 to 10cm per hour.

Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Trevor Noah cancelled its episode on Tuesday because of the storm. The network is airing a rerun instead.

"The Daily Show" generally tapes its episodes in the late afternoon in a Manhattan studio.

There's no snow day for Noah's comedy colleagues Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, however. Representatives for the New York-based Tonight show on NBC and Late Show on CBS said the weather is not affecting their episodes.

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