A storm dropped a blanket of light, powdery snow across the Northeast and ushered in frigid temperatures Friday that were unusual even for cities accustomed to blasts of winter weather. The storm, which shut down major highways temporarily and grounded flights, was blamed for at least nine deaths in the eastern half of the country.
The nor’easter was accompanied by plummeting temperatures that on Friday morning reached 8 degrees below zero in Burlington, Vt., with a wind chill of 29 below, and 2 degrees in Boston, with a wind chill of minus 20. It dumped 23 inches of snow in Boxford, Mass., and 18 inches in parts of western New York near Rochester. Thirteen inches of snow fell in Boston, while Lakewood, N.J., got 10 inches and New York City’s Central Park got 6.
On a mostly empty Main Street in Concord, N.H., Kathy Woodfin hustled to work, a tall iced coffee turning to caramel-colored slush in her left hand. It was 7 degrees at 9 a.m. and the wind zipping through alleyways blew a fine, stinging snow in her face.
“I just run from heated car to heated building,” the New Hampshire native said. “It’s just like down South, where they run from air conditioned car to air conditioned building.”
Schools and offices were closed across the region, and police were busy responding to accidents and reports of stranded vehicles. Governors in New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency Thursday, urging residents to stay home. But few power outages were reported Friday and the cold made the snow easy to manage.
“It’s light and fluffy, so it’s easy,” said 33-year-old Michael Connors, was shoveling in front of businesses in downtown Fairfield, Conn.
Sonja Keller of Scituate, Mass., was out walking her labradoodle puppy near the ocean as waves came over a seawall. Because of high winds, the snow was knee deep in some places and barely visible in others. Her children, ages 4, 6 and 8, had gotten in almost a full day of school on Thursday but were off again Friday.
“I’m just going to stay inside, play some games with the kids,” she said. “They can go outside and play in the snow again. They enjoy the snow.”
U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights Thursday because of the snowfall and low visibility. By midday Friday, about 2,200 flights were canceled nationwide, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com. The bulk of those were in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The brunt of the storm began late Thursday in parts of New England and New York state. Forecasters warned that gusts of up to 30 miles per hour could bring wind chills to minus 25 degrees, cold enough to cause frostbite in about 30 minutes or less. The weather service said people should dress warmly to avoid hypothermia and cover all exposed skin.
Warming centers opened around the region, homeless shelters saw larger crowds and cities took special measures to look after those most vulnerable to the cold. Outreach teams were searching New York City streets for homeless people at risk of freezing to death.
It was so cold in a place that bills itself as Snowtown USA that some events at the town’s winter festival were canceled. Organizers of this week’s Snowtown festival in Watertown in northern New York scratched a snowshoe tour, horse-drawn carriage rides, dog sled rides and a snow softball tournament as temperatures plunged below zero across the North Country. Organizers moved other outdoor activities to indoor facilities.
The weather posed the first test for New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who was sworn in to lead the nation’s largest city a day before the heavy snow arrived.
De Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticized his predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a large snowstorm, dispatched hundreds of plows and salt spreaders on the streets as soon as the snow started falling Thursday night.
“I feel great about the response,” De Blasio said Friday after shoveling the sidewalk outside his Brooklyn home. “We are vigilant. We are not out of this yet. As a great man said, `It’s not over until it’s over.’ But I like what I see in terms of the rigor and the intensity of the city response.”
In Hallowell, Maine, where temperatures dipped to minus 8 degrees Friday morning, David Wheelock used a shovel to search the snow where he dropped his keys outside his son’s copy and printing shop.
The 73-year-old lifelong Maine resident said he’s seen his fair share of bad winters and wasn’t too fazed by the snow and bitter cold. But he said it can be dangerous if people aren’t prepared for the worst, with things like back-up heat sources at home, and jumper cables and extra clothes in the car.
“I don’t always rely on someone else to come bail me out,” he said.
Temperatures in the Northeast are expected to rise above freezing over the weekend, before the arrival of another blast of frigid air that was already affecting the Midwest. In Wisconsin, a record low temperature was set Friday morning in Green Bay, where the mercury dipped to minus 18. The National Weather Service said that topped the 17-below-zero mark last recorded in 1979.
In the East, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three major highways closed overnight. The Thruway between Albany and the Bronx, the Long Island Expressway and Interstate 84 between the Pennsylvania and Connecticut borders all reopened Friday morning. Southbound Interstate 95 closed in Philadelphia for several hours because of a jackknifed tractor-trailer.
Amtrak was running trains on all of its Northeast lines on Friday but operating on a modified schedule, spokeswoman Christina Leeds said. Commuter trains in and out of New York City were operating on reduced schedules.
Slick roads were blamed for traffic deaths in Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a 71-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home.
As the storm approached, a worker at a suburban Philadelphia salt storage facility was killed when a 100-foot-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe. There was no word on what may have caused the accident.
The snowstorm worked its way east from the Midwest, where it dropped up to a foot of snow on Michigan and more than a foot in parts of Illinois, prompting the cancellation Thursday of hundreds of flights at both Chicago airports. It merged with low pressure moving northeast off the mid-Atlantic coast, forming a nor’easter.