Tens of thousands of travelers had to delay plans due to a blizzard blowing into the northeastern United States today (Sunday, December 26, 2010). Governors on Sunday declared a state of emergency in Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts in advance of the approaching storm. The mayors of Philadelphia, Boston, Providence and Portland, Maine, also called snow emergencies, while New York City launched a winter snow storm operation and encouraged people to stay off the roads by taking mass transit or staying put.
Airlines operating up and down the United Staters East Coast collectively canceled hundreds of flights, while Amtrak stopped service as of late Sunday afternoon between New York and Portland, Maine, as well as between Newport News and Richmond, Virginia.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “Unfortunately, our city is directly in the path. It’s hard to stand up in a 55-mph wind, so this really is dangerous.” The blizzard warning will remain in effect in New York City until 6:00 pm on Monday.
While snow has started to fall through much of the mid-Atlantic and Nnortheast, the worst is expected Sunday evening as the system barrels northward. “It does appear like the worst weather will be in the vicinity of the New York City area northeastward into the Boston area,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Oravec. “We do expect the winds to pick up.”
Metropolitan New York could see between 15 and 20 inches of accumulating snow, with sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph and sporadically stronger gusts especially along Long Island, the weather agency predicts.
The Connecticut coast, Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, coastal New Hampshire, and Maine also have a blizzard warning in effect through Monday evening, with expected snowfall of 12 to 16 inches and wind gusts reaching 60 mph.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called the emergency in anticipation of a system that is expected to dump up to 14 inches of snow in the region. “Shoppers, travelers, and city residents take advantage of an early start because it (the storm) is coming in a short time,” Nutter said during a Sunday morning press conference outside City Hall. “When it comes it will hit very hard.”
Meanwhile, the NFL announced that a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles – originally scheduled for Sunday night – had been postponed until 8:20 pm Tuesday.
Nutter, Patrick, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino urged residents to stay off the roads if possible. Menino encouraged Boston residents to stay home and requested that area businesses allow their employees to go to work in “staggered commutes,” or work from home if possible to help keep the roads clear.
At a 12:30 pm press conference, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters that 1,000 plows, sand, and salt trucks were on the road in Massachusetts and that as many as 4,000 would be deployed as the storm worsens.
“We expect visibility to be very low and travel to be extremely dangerous,” Patrick said. He also warned of possible overnight flooding along Massachusetts Bay, with the danger peaking when high tide hits around 3:30 am Monday.
Even those lucky not to have anywhere to go could be impacted by the storm. The weather service notes the combination of wet, heavy snow and strong winds will likely cause “widespread power outages,” among other problems.
The system has already put a wrench in the travel plans for thousands of air passengers trying to get home after the holiday week, with more cancellations expected. As of Sunday afternoon, as many as 1,000 flights had been canceled at New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport and New Jersey’s Newark International Airport, according to Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
Coleman said that there was “very, very limited flight traffic” as of 4:00 pm at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, as airlines acted pre-emptively to cancel flights and get their planes out of the region ahead of the storm. That’s left airports that otherwise would have been packed with people relatively quiet.
“For the most part, people have heeded the warnings … and they’ve stayed put,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll ride it out.”
Delta Air Lines canceled 850 flights as of Sunday morning from the Carolinas through the northeast, roughly one-sixth of the typical 5,000 flight total for the day. American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Sanderson said at 4:15 pm that the airline had canceled 262 flights – most of its air traffic in the Northeast – with movement not expected until 10:00 am Monday. As of late Sunday morning, Continental Airlines, which is partnered with United Airlines, had canceled about 265 domestic mainline and regional departures for Sunday, spokesman Andrew J. Ferraro said.
“There’s nothing you can do,” said Michelle Forsyth, an assembly line worker for Lockheed-Martin, whose flight from New York to Dallas was cancelled. “Be patient and let the weather do what it’s going to do.”
Those carriers, as well as AirTran Airways, are among the carriers waiving penalties for travelers who have to reschedule their trips over the weekend.
While specific information varies by carrier, most are offering penalty waivers for passengers traveling on December 26 and 27 at airports from North Carolina to Boston and beyond. Affected customers are being urged to contact the relevant airline either by phone or online.
New Jersey transit officials reported few delays as the storm approached the area Sunday afternoon. Officials said two jet-engine-powered snow blowers are available to remove snow from tracks and switching areas, as well as 20,000 pounds of salt to clear ice on rail tracks. Anticipating a drop in transit travel Monday, New Jersey officials spent Sunday making service level changes for the start of the working week.
The Staten Island ferry and New York City subway system was running on schedule as of late afternoon Sunday, with commuter rail lines in and out of the city expected to operate on a weekend or holiday schedule on Monday, Bloomberg said.
“With the people who are staying home for the holidays, it’s great, but we know a lot of people who are trying to get home,” said Brett Martin, claiming his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, had received almost a foot of snow. “We’re just playing games and hanging out by the fire.”