Fierce snowstorm descends on densely populated Northeast US

Updated at: 01/26/2015 2:52 PM
By MEGHAN BARR

(AP) NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — More than 35 million people along the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor rushed to get home and settle in Monday as a fearsome storm swirled in with the potential for hurricane-force winds and 1 to 3 feet of snow that could paralyze the Northeast for days.

Snow was blowing sideways with ever-increasing intensity in New York City by midafternoon as flurries began in Boston. Forecasters said the storm would build into a blizzard, and the brunt of it would hit Monday evening and into Tuesday.

As the storm closed in, much of the region rushed to shut down. More than 5,800 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Schools and businesses let out early. Government offices closed. Shoppers stocking up on food jammed supermarkets. Broadway stages went dark.

And cities mobilized snowplows and salt spreaders to deal with a dangerously windy blast that could instantly make up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast.

All too aware that big snowstorms can make or break politicians, governors and mayors moved quickly to declare emergencies and order the shutdown of highways, streets and commuter railroads — perhaps for days — to prevent travelers from getting stranded and to enable plows and emergency vehicles to get through.

"It is not a regular storm," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned in ordering city streets closed to all but emergency vehicles beginning at 11 p.m. "What you are going to see in a few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast."

Boston was expected to get 2 to 3 feet of snow, New York 1½ to 2 feet, and Philadelphia more than a foot. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a 250-mile swath of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential whiteout conditions.

On the snowy Metro-North commuter train platform in White Plains, New York, postal worker Peter Hovey said he will be playing it safe when he has to deliver packages on Tuesday.

"If you're telling me the trains might not run tomorrow, I'm telling you this: I'm not driving," he said. "It's going to be ridiculous out there, frightening."

Many people won't be able to hit the roads even if they want to.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and announced a travel ban on all Long Island roads starting at 11 p.m. The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut similarly slapped restrictions on nonessential travel.

New York City began cutting back subway service, and commuter railroads across the Northeast announced plans to stop running in the evening. Most flights were canceled out of the region's major airports — including New York City's La Guardia and Boston's Logan — and probably won't resume until Wednesday.

Nicole Coelho, 29, a nanny from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, was preparing to pick up her charges early from school and stocking up on macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas and milk at a supermarket. She also was ready in case of a power outage.

"I'm going to make sure to charge up my cellphone, and I have a good book I haven't gotten around to reading yet," she said.

Shopping cart gridlock descended on Fairway, the gourmet grocery on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The meat shelves were all but bare, customers shoved past each other, and outside on Broadway, the checkout line stretched for a block as the wind and snow picked up. Store employees said it was busier than Christmastime.

In yet another possible sign that people were hunkering down at home, Fresh Direct, a grocery delivery service in the Northeast, said it had seen a rise in orders for "movie-day" snacks such as microwave popcorn and chocolate chip cookies.

On Wall Street, however, the New York Stock Exchange stayed open and said it would operate normally Tuesday as well.

Coastal residents braced for a powerful storm surge and the possibility of damaging flooding and beach erosion, particularly in New Jersey and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Officials in New Jersey shore towns warned people to move their cars off the streets and away from the water.

Utility companies across the region put additional crews on standby to deal with anticipated power outages from high winds.

The storm posed one of the biggest tests yet for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been in office for less than three weeks. He warned residents to prepare for power outages and roads that are "very hard, if not impossible, to navigate."

Wind gusts of 75 mph or more were possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph farther inland, forecasters said.

The storm interrupted jury selection in the Boston Marathon bombing case and forced a postponement in opening statements in the murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez in Fall River, Massachusetts.

The Washington area was expecting only a couple of inches of snow. But the House postponed votes scheduled for Monday night because lawmakers were having difficulty flying back to the nation's capital after the weekend.

The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots got out of town just in time, leaving from Logan Airport around midday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.

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Associated Press writers Dave Collins and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; David Porter in Lyndhurst, New Jersey; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y.; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey; Deepti Hajela and Verena Dobnik in New York; Albert Stumm in Philadelphia; and Marcy Gordon and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)