Powerful snowstorm blasts East Coast; officials warn residents about ice as temperatures drop

Just when the crocuses started to bloom with only a week before the calendar marks the start of spring, the Northeast was paralyzed Tuesday with a wet dollop of snow, sleet and rain.

The winter storm didn’t live up to its advance hype as an epic blizzard, but it nevertheless left much of the country a slushy, slippery mess.

Schools were closed from Maine to northern Virginia. Federal government offices in Washington opened with a three-hour delay so that workers would avoid the dangerous commute. Nearly 7,000 flights were canceled nationwide, according to FlightAware, an aviation and data services firm.


As the day wore on, the storm track shifted slightly, and snow switched to sleet in Philadelphia and New York. Blizzard warnings were lifted in some places along the East Coast, and forecasts of a foot or more of snow were cut in half.

Officials also warned that slush would turn to ice as night falls and temperatures drop.

“The worst of the storm has passed and our snow accumulation totals have been downgraded, but we are urging New Yorkers to stay off the roads to allow our sanitation department to clear,’’ New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in the early afternoon.

Still, people posted pictures to social media showing empty shelves at grocery stores and bodegas all across the Northeast as residents stocked up on food and toiletries and hunkered down. Some posted images of efforts to begin digging out with shovels and blowers.

“The weather is weird,’’ said Chris Edwards, 33, a waiter at Rock ‘n Roll Barbecue, a restaurant on the outskirts of Buffalo, N.Y. “Last week it was 70 degrees and I was wearing shorts, playing ‘Pokemon Go’ outside. Now it’s 20 degrees, snowing and blowing everywhere.’’

An estimated 70 million Americans experienced consequences related to the storm, and many businesses gave employees the option of working from home.

In Boston, John Beck, deputy director of ArtsBoston, was advising theaters about whether to cancel shows this evening while juggling care for his 4 ½-year-old son who was home from school.

“My son loves snow days. He is watching the movie ‘Moana,’ which he has already seen seven times. Then he’ll help me shovel the snow,’’ said Beck.

Transportation systems — such as Amtrak and New Jersey Transit — reduced services much of Tuesday as snow and sleet blanketed tracks.

In Massachusetts and other portions of New England, the forecast called for 12 to 18 inches of snow. As of Tuesday afternoon, Suffolk County — where Boston is located — had received about 4.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

“If people need to get somewhere, we would urge them to take public transportation, and they need to recognize and understand they may get up and look out the window and not see much,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said.

The state of Connecticut took some of the most serious measures, issuing a statewide travel ban on all but essential outings. Violators were subject to a $92 fine.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reported about 62,000 people without power.

In Virginia and Pennsylvania, power was knocked out to nearly 100,000 people.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney asked that the public do its part.

“Even if you get your car out of the street and the other primary and secondary streets aren’t plowed, you’re not going anywhere, so rather than clog up plowing operations, walk to the supermarket,” Kenney said.

Even so, many schools were set to reopen Wednesday and flights were being rescheduled as the storm settled down.

In preparation for the storm, President Trump had visited with District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Chief Executive Paul Wiedefeld to discuss storm preparations.

WMATA trains saw minimal delays as many people remained home. By Tuesday evening, between 2 and 4 inches of snow had fallen in the Washington area, weather service officials said.

Wind gusts in the area were about 30 mph. Last week, the region saw temperatures climb into the 60s.

As the temperatures dipped into the mid-30s with light rains, Bowser warned residents to not only be cautious when traveling the roads, but to also take special care of pets.

“You wouldn’t want to be stuck in the cold,” she said on Twitter. “Temperatures will continue to fall, so bring . . . your furry friends inside.”

Times staff writers Lee reported from Los Angeles and Demick from New York.


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4:20 p.m.: This article was updated with changing conditions and new warnings by officials.

11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest on services and reaction to the storm.

9:55 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.

8:05 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest snowfall measures and witness accounts.

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.