A massive winter storm swept from the Carolinas to Maine on Thursday, dumping snow along the coast and bringing strong winds that will usher in possible record-breaking cold.
Up to 18 inches of snow was expected in eastern New England. Blizzard warnings and states of emergency were in effect, schools and government offices closed for the day, thousands of flights were canceled and motorists were warned to be careful as conditions worsened. Shelters were open as officials worried about power outages leaving people without any heat.
People who take to the roads are in for an “ugly, long commute” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
North Carolina authorities said two people died during the storm when their pickup truck ran off a snow-covered road and overturned into a creek Wednesday night in Moore County, which wasn’t expected to get any snow. The North Carolina Highway Patrol responded to 700 collisions and 300 other calls for service during the storm.
In New Jersey, Orlando Igmat’s car got stuck in a snowbank along the Garden State Parkway in Tinton Falls on Thursday morning as he drove to work at Verizon. He had to wait a half hour for a tow truck to pull him out.
“I just skidded on the road and then stopped me here so I can’t move right now anymore,” he said. “I didn’t expect it (the storm) was going to be a heavy one. That’s why I went to work today. I’m going to stay in a hotel tonight.”
Ankle deep snow and wind gusts approaching 50 mph (80 kph) covered Maryland’s Ocean City Boardwalk, which was under a blizzard warning Thursday.
Eastern Massachusetts and most of Rhode Island were bracing for as much as 18 inches of snow, with snow falling at a rate of 3 inches per hour possible. The National Weather Service warned of wind gusts hitting near 70 mph.
The Eversource electric utility said more than 5,500 homes and businesses were without power at midmorning Thursday in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the outermost tip of Cape Cod, which was being lashed with hurricane-force wind gusts.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said more than 100 warming centers have been opened in 34 towns across the state. Connecticut has 634 state plow trucks and 250 contractors working to clear the highways.
The massive storm began two days ago in the Gulf of Mexico, first hitting the Florida Panhandle. It has prompted thousands of canceled flights, shuttered schools and businesses and sparked fears of coastal flooding and power outages.
Wind gusts strong enough to cause downed trees and power lines were predicted in places where the National Weather Service has issued blizzard warnings. They include the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes parts of Delaware, Virginia and Maryland; coastal New Jersey; eastern Long Island, New York; and coastal eastern New England.
More than two-thirds of flights in and out airports in the New York City area and Boston were canceled. The airline-tracking site FlightAware reported more than 3,200 canceled flights within, into, or out of the United States on Thursday morning.
The storm shut down much of eastern Virginia, but some people were taking it in stride.
Mark Schoenenberger, 45, a NASA engineer who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, put on his cross country skis so he could make a half hour trip to the bagel shop for some breakfast for his family.
“It’s like ’Yay, I get to go out,” he said.
The only concern he seemed to have was telecommuting while his kids were home from school. But “it’s just noise,” he said.
In Norfolk, Virginia, Jonathan Rogers and his brother, Jason Mitchell, got stuck in the snow at least twice while driving home Thursday morning after working the overnight shift at a local hospital.
“I was not staying,” said Rogers, 30, a floor technician. “I said the storm is not going to bother me.”
The storm will then be followed by a wave of bracing cold.
“We think there are going to be scattered records broken for low temperatures,” said Peterson, adding how the weather service expects 28 major cities across New England, eastern New York and the mid-Atlantic states will have record low temperatures by dawn on Sunday.
State and local officials urged residents to prepare for possible power losses and stay home so crews can clear streets and roads of what could be as much as foot or more of snow in some places. There were concerns in Boston and elsewhere that if roads aren’t properly cleared, they could freeze into cement-like icy messes by Friday, given the expected low temperatures. In other areas, plummeting temperatures already have caused water mains to burst.
The storm has resulted in thousands of canceled flights at major airports such as Boston’s Logan International Airport and New York’s LaGuardia Airport and disrupted the schedules at regional airports.
Amtrak planned to operate a modified schedule between New York and Boston on Thursday. Northeast Regional Service between Washington, D.C., and Newport News/Norfolk, Virginia, was canceled for Thursday.
The coastal Southeast got a rare blast of snow and ice on Wednesday. Schools were shut down just months after hurricane threats. In Charleston, South Carolina, the weather service reported 5 inches of snow, enough for Chris Monoc’s sons, ages 4 and 2, to go sledding outside their home.
“They probably will be teenagers the next time something like this happens, and that’s kind of sad,” Monoc said. “But we’ll enjoy it while it’s here.”