Filed Under:Risk Management, Weather Risk

Winter storm shuts down New York as snow hammers mid-Atlantic states

A taxicab drives through a largely empty Times Square in New York City, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. A blizzard with hurricane-force winds brought much of the East Coast to a standstill, dumping as much as 3 feet of snow, stranding tens of thousands of travelers and shutting down the nation's capital and its largest city. (Photo: Rainmaker Photo/MediaPunch/IPX via AP Photo)
A taxicab drives through a largely empty Times Square in New York City, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. A blizzard with hurricane-force winds brought much of the East Coast to a standstill, dumping as much as 3 feet of snow, stranding tens of thousands of travelers and shutting down the nation's capital and its largest city. (Photo: Rainmaker Photo/MediaPunch/IPX via AP Photo)

(Bloomberg) — A historic winter storm brought Washington and New York to a standstill and snow kept falling after accumulations of more than a foot. The blizzard also knocked out power to at least 215,000, grounded more than 8,800 flights, and has been blamed for 10 deaths.

“This is very likely one of the worst storms in our history,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing at the Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn. The storm could place in the top five for snowfall in records going back to 1869. “Don’t go out — or go out very briefly — and watch your kids carefully.”

Vehicles were ordered off roads around New York City starting at 2:30 p.m., while Metro North, Long Island Rail Road and above-ground Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway trains will all stop by 4 p.m., New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“Plows cannot keep up with snowfall at a certain rate. That is a situation that is now occurring,” Cuomo said on Twitter. He declared a state of emergency earlier. All Broadway matinee and evening performances have been canceled for the day.

Blizzard in Queens, N.Y.

Passersby try to help a stranded motorist as snow falls, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in the Queens borough of New York. (Photo: Daniel P. Derella/AP Photo)

Queens clobbered

Reports of 16 to 18 inches of snow have been gathered in the Washington metropolitan area and as much as two feet is forecast, the National Weather Service said. In New York, a foot has already fallen in Queens, and totals across the city could reach as high as 30 inches, higher than indicated as recently as Friday. Long Island and New Jersey may get as much as two feet as well.

“We are still looking at periods of heavy snow,” said Brian Ciemnecki, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York. “During the day today snow could fall at 1 to 2 inches per hour and at higher rates in the heavier snow bands.”

The storm is also on track to reach historic proportions in Washington, which could have one of its top three deepest snows. The city received 28 inches in January 1922 and 20 inches in February 1899.

Blizzard in Washington, D.C.

Harrison Feind of Boulder, Colo., takes a selfie with a snowman in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

‘Please Stay Home’

“We’re still in that time frame where really bad things can happen,” Chris Geldart, director of the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said at a briefing.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser told people to stay home so crews can deal with the growing piles of snow. “There are too many people on the streets, both driving and walking,” Bowser said at the briefing. “We are still very much in our emergency response phase. Please stay home.”

More than 1,300 people were using shelters in Washington at 1 p.m. local time, up from less than 400 at 9 a.m., Dora Taylor, a spokeswoman for the city, said in an e-mail.

In addition to the heavy totals along the East Coast, the storm also dumped snow from Alabama to Arkansas to Pennsylvania, as well as leaving parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky coated in ice.

Blizzard in Kentucky

This image made from video provided by WKYT shows drivers stuck on Interstate 75 on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, after a massive winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow in south central Kentucky, causing multiple crashes that created a 30-mile stretch of stopped traffic. By Saturday afternoon, I-75 was no longer closed, with lanes open both northbound and southbound. Traffic was moving — albeit slowly, and officials expected it to stay that way for a while. (Photo: WKYT/AP Photo)

Treacherous Interstates

Hundreds of drivers were stranded overnight on a treacherous 30-mile stretch of Interstate 75 in south-central Kentucky and traffic was also stopped for much of Saturday on a hilly section of Interstate 76 in Pennsylvania. More than 135 police officers and fire fighters have been checking on stranded motorists on the highway around Somerset County, Pennsylvania, bringing them extra fuel and directing them to shelters, according to a statement from Governor Tom Wolf’s office.

At least 10 deaths have been attributed to the storm, mostly in traffic accidents, according to the Associated Press.

About 215,000 homes and businesses were without power as of 1 p.m. New York time, with more than half of those in North Carolina, according to a survey by Bloomberg of utility websites. Cuomo said most of the New York outages were on Long Island.

Blizzard in New Jersey

A van drives through a flooded street as ice and snow prevent drainage Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo: Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Flooding possible

Some 8,826 flights have been canceled in the U.S. through Sunday, according to Houston-based FlightAware. Most of Saturday’s scrubbed trips were from the New York area’s three large airports. Runways are closed at the three major Washington-area airports.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who hurried home on Friday from New Hampshire, where he was campaigning for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, declared a state of emergency. New Jersey Transit stopped bus, rail and light-rail service, according to the agency’s website.

New York is also bracing for potential coastal flooding in Long Island and around New York City, Cuomo said.

As part of New York’s travel ban, bridges and tunnels leading to and from the city will be closed at 2:30 p.m., according to a statement from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. This includes the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, as well as the Bayonne Bridge. The port authority will also close its bus terminal at 4 p.m.

The wheels of commerce also ground to a halt: CSX Corp. is holding freight trains in the face of the heavy snow, and has warned customers to expect delays of as much as 48 hours moving through the affected region.

Washington, D.C., blizzard

Soldiers with the 275th Military Police company, and a Washington, D.C., firefighter, in a Humvee, assist a stranded motorist in the snow on I-395, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Washington. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Public transit

In Washington, the city’s metro and bus service was stopped late on Friday and will remain off-line until Monday. Philadelphia halted regional rail and bus service starting at 4 a.m. Saturday. Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, continued to operate on a modified schedule, canceling several trains on the East Coast and halting service south of Washington.

The storm’s path has drifted slightly to the north, which is why potential snowfall totals have risen for New York and parts of New England, said Gregg Gallina, a meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Blizzard warnings stretch from Virginia to the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, including Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Winds may gust as high as 60 miles (96 kilometers) per hour or more in many coastal regions. Winter storm warnings and advisories stretch from Georgia to Massachusetts.

In addition, the weather service issued a coastal flood warning for the Bronx, northern Queens and shoreline areas of Long Island Sound for Saturday.

Sunny Sunday

A sharp contrast is setting up in New England, Gallina said. From 8 to 12 inches is possible across southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, while Boston could get a relative dusting of from 2 to 5 inches, according to the weather service.

“Boston proper is still on the outside skirts,” Gallina said. “This is an extremely tight gradient right across New England.”

Snow should start to taper off late Saturday and end sometime overnight just about everywhere. “Most people will wake up Sunday morning to sunny skies,” said Ciemnecki, the forecaster.

— With assistance from Jim Polson, Henry Goldman, Maggie Otte and Kasia Klimasinska.

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