Blizzard hits US northeast, New York spared its brunt

  • Reuters, Boston/New York
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2015 01:16 IST

A blizzard swept across the northeastern United States on Tuesday, closing schools, cancelling thousands of flights and leaving residents in the hardest-hit parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut digging out as much as 2 feet (60 cm) of snow, though New York City was spared the storm's brunt.

The governors of New York and New Jersey lifted travel bans they had imposed a day earlier and New York City's subway system restarted after being closed for 10 hours, but officials urged people to stay off snow-covered roadways.

The snow was forecast to continue into early Wednesday morning in eastern New England, which could set a new snowfall record in Boston, where 18 inches (46 cm) of snow was already on the ground by midday, often piled higher by strong winds.

"There are drifts now of four, five and six feet in some places," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker told reporters. Boston-area subways would remain closed for at least the rest of the day, Baker said.

Police said a teenager died late on Monday when he crashed into a lamppost on a street where he was snow-tubing on Long Island, one of the hardest hit areas in New York state.

The National Weather Service lifted its blizzard warning for the New York City area, but throughout the region offices were closed, schools were shut, some roads remained impassable, and thousands of flights were canceled or delayed.

A blizzard warning remained in effect for much of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where snow was expected to fall throughout the day at a rate as high as 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) an hour.

Boston could receive up to 25 inches (64 cm) of accumulation, approaching the record of 27.5 inches (69.85 cm) set in February 2003.

Some in New York criticized the aggressive warnings of officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo, who for the first time in history ordered the city's round-the-clock subways to close for a snowstorm. Officials with vivid memories of disasters including 2012's Superstorm Sandy defended their actions.

Stuck at home, Northeasterners spent their time on social media, filling Twitter and Facebook with photos of snow drifts covering the doors of their homes and what appeared to be a person in Boston dressed as the Yeti, a mythical abominable snowman, on hashtags including "#snowmaggeddon2015" and "#blizzardof2015."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joked with Twitter followers that it was "too cold" to wear the fleece jacket he had sported in photos after Sandy.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered schools to re-open on Wednesday and Broadway's theaters planned to open their doors on Tuesday night as the city began to return to normal.

The New York Stock Exchange, owned by Intercontinental Exchange Inc, opened as usual. Nasdaq OMX Group and BATS Global Markets also expected to stay open for normal operating hours on Tuesday.

'They always mess up'

New Yorkers were divided on whether officials had over-reacted in ordering dramatic shutdowns ahead of the storm.

"The mayor was going based on the meteorologists. The meteorologists, they always mess up, it's not an exact science," said Vincent Pierce, 34, as he walked his bulldog on a snow-free Manhattan sidewalk.

Others were frustrated that officials had preemptively shut the subway and ordered cabs off the roads.

"This made it a little difficult to go to my job. I usually take a taxi, but no taxis today," said Greg Noble, 29, as he walked briskly to his maintenance job some 30 city blocks from his Manhattan home.

A man shovels the sidewalk on Mt. Vernon Street during a blizzard in Boston, Massachusetts. (Reuters Photo)

Cuomo defended the decisions, which had included a driving ban in New York City and its surrounding counties overnight.

"I would rather, if there is a lean one way or another, lean towards safety because I have seen the consequences the other way and it gets very frightening very quickly ... we have had people die in storms," Cuomo told reporters. "I would rather be in a situation where we say 'We got lucky.'"

Christie, his New Jersey counterpart, was less sanguine about the dire forecasts that preceded the storm.

"I wasn't thrilled on my 5:30 a.m. phone call, but it's the way it goes," Christie told Philadelphia's WTXF television.

Connecticut, Massachusetts hardest hit

Some of the heaviest snowfall was recorded in parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts, with about 20 inches (50 cm) reported around Worcester, and well over the 6 inches (15 cm) reported in New York City's Central Park.

Fewer Massachusetts residents and businesses lost power than was expected, Baker said, adding that temperatures well below freezing had resulted in light snow. High winds could yet result in additional outages, he said.

"We'll continue to see high winds throughout the course of the day," Baker told reporters on Tuesday. "People should spend the morning digging out, cleaning up."

Jay Begley, a 53-year-old web designer living in Somerville, just outside Boston, was taking that advice and clearing his driveway.

"This happens from time to time," Begley said. "It will make summer all that much sweeter."

Brendan Sullivan, a 31-year-old student in Arlington, Massachusetts, said he had hoped for more snow.

"I'm a little disappointed it's not crazier," Sullivan said. "I wouldn't mind if it got worse. It would be exciting."

Significant flooding was reported in coastal communities south of Boston, including Scituate, the state police said.

Authorities were working to restore power in the resort island of Nantucket, off Massachusetts, where most homes and businesses had lost power early in the day, Baker said.

Some 34,700 customers across the storm-hit region were without power, according to local utilities, with the bulk of the outages on Massachusetts' Cape Cod and outlying islands.

Massachusetts' Pilgrim nuclear power plant powered down on Tuesday after lines allowing it to transmit electricity went down, officials said.

The United Nations headquarters gave itself a day off on Tuesday.

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