‘Life-threatening’ blizzard hits East Coast; flights canceled, government shut down
NYPD cars covered in snow are seen in New York. Millions of people in the eastern United States started digging out from a huge blizzard that brought New York and Washington to a standstill, but the travel woes were far from over.(KENA BETANCUR / AFP/Getty Images)
Workers clear the tracks of snow at the Port Washington branch of the Long Island Railroad in New York N.Y. Service is suspended on the Port Washington branch due to the recent snow storm.(Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press)
People walk near the Washington Monument in Washington.(OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP/Getty Images)
A child goes sledding down a hill in Bruce Park in Greenwich, Connecticut.(TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP/Getty Images)
General view of Brooklyn Bridge with snowed up docks in New York.(FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT / AFP/Getty Images)
A young girl is sliding on the West Lawn of the US Capitol in Washington. Millions of people in the eastern United States started digging out from a huge blizzard that brought New York and Washington to a standstill.(OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP/Getty Images)
Children slide in the snow in Central Park in New York.(FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT / AFP/Getty Images)
Dan Cooperman falls into a deep snowbank in Brooklyn, N.Y., as he was trying to clear his car on Jan. 24.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
John Ruiz, 18, left, and Tyrone Graham, 16, earn money digging cars out of the snow in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 24.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Saul Shapiro, center, Jim Keller, right, and Jonathan Marvel, back, enjoy cross-country skiing along the Brooklyn, N.Y., waterfront on Jan. 24.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
As the sun comes out on Jan. 24 after a major snowstorm hit the Northeast, families enjoy sledding at Hillside Dog Park in Brooklyn, N.Y.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Snow covers the Brooklyn, N.Y., waterfront with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background on Jan. 24.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Two women make their way across 6th Avenue in Manhattan.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A light snow continued to fall in Brooklyn late Saturday.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Pedestrians battle heavy snow and wind on 6th Avenue in Manhattan.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The snowy scene on Whitney Avenue in New Haven, Conn.(Stan Godlewski / Hartford Courant)
A couple walk along the Brooklyn Bridge.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Blizzard conditions make driving difficult on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A man skis across the Brooklyn Bridge.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A man helps a police officer get his cruiser out of the snow in Baltimore.(Karl Merton Ferron )
A snowplow clears Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.(Francois Xavier Marit / AFP/Getty Images)
New York canceled bus service because of the snowstorm.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A man crosses a windy snowy street in Manhattan.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times )
A car owner digs out in Brooklyn.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Snow falls heavily in Manhattan on Saturday morning.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times )
Pedestrians trudge through heavy snow falling on Manhattan.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
New Yorkers don boots, gloves and parkas against the wind and snow.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times )
A woman and her dog have the streets mostly to themselves in Brooklyn as heavy snow pounds the East Coast.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A plow clears a street Friday in Bowling Green, Ky.(Austin Anthony / Associated Press)
Workers shovel snow on the Martin Luther King bridge in Roanoke, Va., as snow falls Friday morning.(Stephanie Klein-Davis / Associated Press)
Cars drive in difficult conditions in southwest Roanoke County, Va., as a blizzard hits the Eastern United States.(Erica Yoon / The Roanoke Times)
Taylor Mushtare scrapes ice and snow from her car in Old Southwest Roanoke, Va.(Heather Rousseau / Associated Press)
A woman strolls along Campbell Avenue at First Street with her dog as snow falls Friday morning in Roanoke, Va.(Stephanie Klein-Davis / Associated Press)
A customer looks at the heavily depleted bread section of a grocery store, as shoppers prepare for an approaching snowstorm in Alexandria, Va.(Michael Reynolds / EPA)
Snow gathers on a swing set in Highland Park in Roanoke, Va.(Heather Rousseau / Associated Press)
Donald Summit plows the sidewalk along Williamson Road in Roanoke, Va., as snow falls Friday morning.(Stephanie Klein-Davis / Associated Press)
Bashon Mann and his children sled down a hill on Capitol Hill in Washington as snow falls around them. It may have taken an act of Congress, but the children of Washington are finally welcome to go sledding on Capitol Hill.(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Cesar Gonzalez builds a snowman in Oxford, Miss.(Bruce Newman / Associated Press)
Barbara Davis walks her dog Haddix in Bowling Green, Ky. Snow and drizzle began falling early Wednesday across much of Kentucky and Tennessee, leading school districts and some universities to cancel classes and officials to warn motorists to drive carefully.(Miranda Pederson / Associated Press)
Shoveled snow is piled in the plaza east of the Capitol in Washington.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Secret Service officers and pedestrians in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue after a light snow storm.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Tara Jakeway with Chasing News makes an angel in the man-made snow in New York’s Central Park during Winter Jam NYC’s Ultimate Snow Day, a free festival for people to learn to ski, snowboard and sled.(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)
Beth Bryant takes part in a parents-vs.-kids snowball fight at Bowling Green Junior High School in Kentucky.(Austin Anthony / Associated Press)
In Bismarck, N.D., the Pioneer Family monument on the mall of the state Capitol is covered in frost.(Tom Stromme / Associated Press)
A city worker blows snow from a sidewalk in Knoxville, Tenn.(Amy Smotherman Burgess / Associated Press)
A snow plow works on clearing the Volunteer Parkway as snow falls in Bristol, Tenn.(Earl Neikirk / Associated Press)
A bicyclist has his hands full as he pedals through the snow in Bristol, Va.(Andre Teague / Associated Press)
Nick Morgan shovels sidewalks of Indiana Woods Apartment complex in Evansville, Ind.(Erin McCracken / Associated Press)
Work continues at the Howell Railroad Yard in Evansville, Ind., with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. Another round of snow is forecast for Thursday.(Denny Simmons / Associated Press)
Atley Osborne and her sled part ways as she slides down Reitz High School’s practice field hill in Evansville, Ind.(Denny Simmons / Associated Press)
A woman braves snowy conditions in Washington.(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)
A man clears a sidewalk in Washington.(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)
A fast-moving, thunder-carrying blizzard moved into the nation’s capital Friday afternoon, shutting down much of the government for business with the promise of record-breaking snowfall and pounding winds that would wreak havoc for much of the East Coast.
“We see this as a major storm,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a Friday news conference at the District of Columbia’s emergency operation center. “It has life-and-death implications.”
Snow began falling in Washington about 1 p.m., softly at first, gently enveloping the monuments, with heavier snowfall arriving Friday night that was expected to continue past midnight Saturday.
Blizzard warnings were expanded Friday to include New York and Philadelphia, in addition to Washington and Baltimore.
“Potential life-threatening conditions are expected through Saturday night,” the National Weather Service reported.
At least nine people were killed in storm-related crashes in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the Associated Press, and electrical workers were scrambling to address thousands of power outages.
The weather service said the storm could cause up to $1 billion in damage, but the first snowflakes in the nation’s capital earlier Friday were, for many, cause for curiosity.
“It’s awesome,” said Mike Mainey, a 50-year-old Houston resident who commutes to Washington on weekdays. Mainey was shooting video with his smartphone near the White House “for the folks back in Houston, and posting them on Facebook.”
By the early afternoon, most residents were home. Schools throughout the region were closed. One of the nation’s largest subway systems, connecting Virginia and Maryland to the district, planned to shut down at 11 p.m., with many bus lines canceling service much earlier.
Airlines had grounded thousands of flights throughout the region.
Congress delayed votes and the White House canceled medal ceremonies until at least Tuesday, while federal government workers either worked from home or left the office by lunchtime.
The storm is now forecast to dump 2 or more feet of snow on Washington and Baltimore, with wind gusts reaching 50 mph. New York, Philadelphia and other major cities in the region could get a foot or more of snow and similar winds. Drivers in parts of Kentucky and North Carolina had already begun experiencing icy roads Friday morning, part of a swath of 15 states, comprising nearly 10% of the nation’s population, which was put on notice by the National Weather Service.
“Traveling under these conditions is pretty hazardous,” said Dan Petersen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Governors as far south as Georgia declared states of emergency Thursday night, with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issuing an urgent message: “Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours, in case roads are blocked and/or there are power outages.”
After initial hesitation and criticism, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie canceled Friday afternoon and Saturday campaign events in New Hampshire to return home.
New York City was bracing for 12 to 18 inches of snow, high winds and possible coastal flooding. Mayor Bill de Blasio said his city would feel the brunt of the storm on Saturday afternoon.
“Get what you need done today and stay off the roads,” De Blasio said during a news conference, urging drivers to clear the way for 1,800 snowplows.
The National Weather Service also has issued a coastal flood warning for waterfronts in Staten Island, Brooklyn and southern Queens, areas that had been seriously damaged by flooding during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
In an ironic twist, the blizzard prompted New York to cancel Saturday’s Central Park “Winter Jam,” an annual event where the city brings in snow-making machines for snowboarding and sledding.
Petersen said he expects Washington’s snowfall will rank among the largest of all time in the city, surpassing the third largest blizzard, which left 19 inches in 1979.
“We’re pretty confident it will get that high,” he said. “Now the question is, can it beat the No. 2 and No. 1?”
The record for Washington, 28 inches, was reached in 1922, followed by 20 inches in 1899.
Washington is notoriously ill-prepared for snow, leaving many residents on edge. A dusting on Wednesday night during rush hour created hours of delays, and caused President Obama’s motorcade to slide, as snow crews and commuters were caught off guard, prompting an apology from Bowser and a promise of better preparation before this weekend.
“This is a drop in the bucket so far compared to a place like Chicago,” Joe Zadrozny, visiting from Chicago, said as the first few flakes fell downtown Friday. Zadrozny, 31, said his flight home, scheduled for Sunday, had been postponed and he was uncertain about his dinner reservation.
Mayor Martin Walsh of Boston, who dealt with a record series of blizzards last winter, was one of many leaders who offered to send help. He and other mayors were in Washington late this week for a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering.
“My Public Works Department in the city of Boston has already contacted me,” he told reporters Thursday. “If we don’t get hit with the snow that’s [going to] hit in Washington… I’m going to offer to [Bowser] if she needs these snow blowers to come to the city to help her, we will help.”
“I feel bad,” he said. “I’m going to hopefully watch it on TV and not look out the window and see it.”
Several homeless men huddled in a partially covered subway entrance said they planned to head to a shelter later in the day.
But Rafael Caban, a 53-year-old who said he had been living on the streets since 1998, said he had refused when an outreach worker came by earlier in the day to warn him.
“I’m used to this weather,” he said. “I’m from New York City. I love this weather.”
Supermarkets and hardware stores have been crowded for days while CVS, the pharmacy chain, used automated phone calls to warn customers to stock enough prescription drugs in case they become housebound for several days. Utility companies were also calling customers to warn against downed power lines and other safety hazards.
Convenience stores ran out of cat food, bank machines ran out of cash, and toy stores ran out of sleds. But Whole Foods still had caviar on the shelves, offering a two-for-one discount at one location. “It’s like a hurricane, right?” said Jessica Parrot, 33, who had just moved to Washington on Monday from Melbourne, Fla., and was doing some sightseeing. “People party. There’s not much you can do. … As long as my grandma stays warm.”
Despite the concern, or perhaps because of it, downtown Washington was especially quiet during rush hour Friday. There were no winds and the streets were dry.
Many crews had begun preparing roads with brine. Mayor Allison Silberberg of nearby Alexandria, Va., said she had just returned home from buying more milk and water. More than 50 snowplows in her city were pretreating the roads.
Like other local officials, she was urging people to stay home and prepare to remain there until early next week if necessary.
“It’s absolutely beautiful here when it snows. Now, this is a lot of snow here at once,” Silberberg said. “It’s a great time to read a book or catch up on some filing. We just need people to stay off the roads.”
Times staff writers David Lauter and Michael A. Memoli in Washington and special correspondent Vera Haller in New York contributed to this report.
Follow me @noahbierman on Twitter.
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