Powerful snowstorm hits eastern U.S., snarling travel

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – High winds and heavy snow barreled into the U.S. Northeast on Thursday, closing schools and government offices and disrupting travel as work crews scrambled to clear roads before plummeting temperatures turn snow into treacherous ice.

Thousands of flights were canceled, snow plows and salt trucks were omnipresent on roads and highways, and commuters who braved the storm to head in to their jobs hoped they would be able to make it home safely as the storm intensified later in the day.

Blizzard warnings were in place along the coast from North Carolina to Maine, with the National Weather Service forecasting winds as high as 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour) that may bring down tree limbs and knock out power.

More than a foot (30 cm) of snow was forecast for Boston and coastal areas in northern New England.

The storm is the product of a rapid plunge in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters are referring to as bombogenesis or a “bomb cyclone,” which brings fast heavy snowfall and high winds.

The cold has been blamed for at least nine deaths over the past few days, including two homeless people in Houston.

More than 3,000 airline flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled ahead of the storm’s arrival on Thursday. At New York’s three major airports and Boston’s Logan International, as many as three out of four flights were called off, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

Passenger train operator Amtrak was running reduced service in the Northeast, while mass-transit systems in major metropolitan areas, including New York and Boston, remained open.

“I have a big meeting today, so I had to go in. If I didn’t, I probably would have stayed home,” said Ann Gillard, 24, as she waited for a subway in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to take her into the downtown Boston office where she works as a consultant.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority invested extensively in equipment to remove snow and keep tracks from freezing after extensive disruptions during the winter of 2015, when Boston got about 9 feet (2.74 meters) of snow. But Gillard said her commute typically goes “not that well” in inclement weather.

A man waits for a bus during a blizzard in Long Beach, New York. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“My plan is to leave at 4, right after my meeting, and, hopefully, it will be OK,” she said, adding that her backup plan was to “walk home, probably. It’s not that cold,…

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