A deadly winter storm crawling up the East Coast clobbered the Northeast on Thursday with blinding blizzard conditions and coastal flooding, which snarled travel and left millions of Americans bracing for potential power outages.
At the back end of the massive storm system, which forecasters have called a “bomb cyclone” for its rapid and rare drop in atmospheric pressure, is a threat of winds gusting as high as 60 mph and a bone-chilling blast of Arctic air.
“It’s going to be wicked bad. It’s going to be wicked cold, that’s for sure,” Ted Twombly, who lives on the northeastern Massachusetts coast, told NBC Boston.
Cars were stuck in floodwaters in and around Boston during high tide on Thursday afternoon, with emergency responders reporting a number of rescues. Flooding from the storm surge was also affecting subway service. The National Weather Service in Boston tweeted the flooding could be some of the worst experienced in 40 years.
The Latest on the Storm
Snow was falling at 1 to 3 inches an hour across the Interstate 95 corridor. Through Thursday, parts of New York could see 5 to 10 inches and Long Island up to a foot, Philadelphia 3 to 6 inches, and Washington 1 to 2 inches. In New England, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, could get 8 to 12 inches, while Portland, Maine, could see 10 to 15 inches.
- Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, according to FlightAware. All flights at New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were temporarily suspended, and airports in Newark, New Jersey, and Boston reported more than half of their flights canceled. Additionally, Amtrak said it would operate a modified schedule between New York and Boston.
- Power outages could increase. More than 12,400 Georgia Power customers, 10,200 Florida Power & Light customers and 2,700 South Carolina Electric & Gas customers have been affected since Wednesday night.
- North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said three people have died as a result of the storm, safety officials tweeted. Two of the deaths occurred in Moore County when a truck ran off the road and overturned in a creek, killing two men, ages 57 and 73. A third death occurred in Surf City when a 20-year-old driver crashed into a canal, authorities said.
New York could see up to 10 inches of snow and wind gusts as high as 50 mph, the National Weather Service and city officials said. The city’s schools were closed and airports are already crippled by cancellations as residents in the region grapple with the snow through the early evening. Schools were expected to reopen Friday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for all of downstate New York, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared one for five southern coastal counties.
The advancing storm hit the southern U.S. on Wednesday — starting in Florida, where Tallahassee saw 0.1 inches, its first measurable snowfall in 28 years — triggering emergency declarations and cutting electricity across Georgia and the Carolinas.
Late Wednesday, three cars on an Amtrak train carrying more than 300 passengers headed for New York derailed in snow-covered Savannah, Georgia. No injuries were reported, and Amtrak gave no immediate indication whether the storm that coated the Southern city with a rare snowfall was a factor.
As the storm slogged northward, bringing blizzards to coastal Virginia, it rapidly strengthened through a process called bombogenesis; its impact follows a sustained period of brutally cold weather linked to the deaths of at least 20 people in the United States since Dec. 26.
Blizzard warnings were in effect Thursday along the Eastern Seaboard from northeastern North Carolina to New England, where a storm surge of up to 3 feet, accompanied by chunks of ice, was predicted to cause coastal flooding. Forecasters also warned of hurricane-force winds at Cape Cod.
Heavy snow was forecast for the morning commute in New York, Philadelphia and Washington; federal agencies in the nation’s capital were preparing to begin work up to two hours later than scheduled.
Related: What in the world is bombogenesis?
Travelers were urged to check with their carriers before heading to the airports; almost 5,000 of Thursday’s flights at U.S. airports were already canceled before 3 p.m., according to FlightAware, with more than 1,400 scrapped in the Northeast.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urged people to stay off roads and stay indoors, saying he was “anticipating whiteout conditions” for part of Thursday. Earlier, officials announced that all Boston public schools would be closed because of the weather. The snow was expected to end before midnight.
The storm turned parts of the South into a winter wonderland on Wednesday, including in Florida where pictures of snowfall on sandals and frozen iguanas falling from trees were shared on social media. Three inches of snow were recorded in Charleston, South Carolina, where the airport remained closed Thursday and people were urged to stay off the roads because of the ice.
“We’re just going to wait for it to melt,” city resident Jessica Morse said as her husband used an oar to shovel the driveway and her child built a snowman with beach toys. “Charleston is not prepared.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 28 counties, and in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for all eastern and several central counties.
Behind this storm, meteorologists also warned of dropping temperatures through the weekend along the East Coast as well as the Midwest. About 115 million Americans are under wind chill advisories, watches or warnings.
Boston, New York and Philadelphia could see subzero temperatures.
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“Those wind chill values today are going to be potentially down to 20 below,” said Weather Channel meteorologist Heather Tesch.
A storm is considered a “bomb” when the pressure drops rapidly — at least 24 millibars in 24 hours — and the storm Thursday could intensify at twice that rate, said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue, who helped popularize the term “polar vortex” in 2014, told The Associated Press: “Bombogenesis is the technical term. Bomb cyclone is a shortened version of it, better for social media. The actual impacts aren’t going to be a bomb at all. There’s nothing exploding or detonating.”