Eastern U.S. Blizzard Leaves Disruption and Death in Its Wake

January 24, 2016 by Brian K. Sullivan and Steve Geimann

New York, Washington and the U.S. Mid- Atlantic on Sunday shoveled away more than two feet of snow from a blizzard that brought the region to a standstill, grounded more than 13,000 flights, cut power for several hundred thousand customers, and was blamed for at least 18 deaths.

Highways and roads around New York City opened at 7 a.m. Sunday and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began modified subway and bus service, according to a website status report. Service on outdoor rail lines in New York City will resume at 9 a.m., New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement on his website. Limited flights were scheduled to resume Sunday at New York’s three major airports.

“As crews continue to respond to the storm and the severity of weather conditions decrease, we are lifting the travel ban so New Yorkers can resume their daily routines,” “Public safety is of paramount importance and we encourage New Yorkers to continue exercising caution while traveling.”

In the nation’s capital, all flights at Dulles International Airport were canceled Sunday while Ronald Reagan Washington National probably will remain closed as crews cleared runways and taxiways of almost two feet of snow.

Reports of 16 to 20 inches of snow were common across New York and northern New Jersey, as well as the Washington area, as the snow fell late into Saturday. Several towns in western Maryland and West Virginia had just under three feet. The unincorporated community of Glengary, West Virginia, recorded 40 inches of snow.

LaGuardia Airport in New York City had 27.9 inches at 2:30 a.m., John F. Kennedy Airport had 30.5 inches as of 1 a.m. Central Park in Manhattan logged 26.8 inches as of 1 a.m., the weather service said, just shy of the record for Central Park of 26.9 inches set in February 2006.

LIRR Delays

Snow as deep as two feet hindered crews clearing tracks for the Long Island Rail Road, the nation’s busiest commuter line. Stranded trains and frozen switches blocked snow-clearing equipment from parts of the line, Cuomo said in a statement. The LIRR will concentrate on removing snow from heavily traveled branches, “with a goal of bringing back service for the Monday morning rush hour,” according to a statement. The LIRR carries an average of 301,000 commuters a day from communities east of the city.

The storm ranked as among the heaviest for the nation’s capital. By late Saturday, 22.4 inches were recorded at the National Zoo in northwest Washington and 19.4 inches at National Airport south of the city. The city received 28 inches in January 1922 and 20 inches in February 1899.

“We’re still in that time frame where really bad things can happen,” Chris Geldart, director of the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said at a briefing.

Food Deliveries

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser told people to stay home so crews can deal with the growing piles of snow. “There are too many people on the streets, both driving and walking,” Bowser said at the briefing. “We are still very much in our emergency response phase. Please stay home.”

More than 1,300 people were using shelters in Washington at 1 p.m. local time, Dora Taylor, a spokeswoman for the city, said in an e-mail. The D.C. National Guard has been working with city authorities to deliver food to shelters.

In addition to the heavy totals along the East Coast, the storm also dumped snow from Alabama to Arkansas to Pennsylvania, as well as leaving parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky coated in ice.

Highway Deaths

Traffic stopped for much of Saturday on a hilly section of Interstate 76 in Pennsylvania. More than 135 police and fire fighters have been checking on stranded motorists on the highway around Somerset County, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh, bringing them extra fuel and directing them to shelters, according to a statement from Governor Tom Wolf’s office.

At least 18 deaths have been attributed to the storm, mostly in traffic accidents, according to the Associated Press.

About 182,000 homes and businesses were without power as of 4 p.m. Saturday New York time, according to a survey by Bloomberg of utility websites. Cuomo said most of the New York outages were on Long Island. The Washington area mostly avoided power outages.

Canceled Flights

An estimated 13,232 flights have been canceled in the U.S. through Monday, according to Houston-based FlightAware. Many of Saturday’s scrubbed trips were from the New York area’s three large airports. Runways remain closed at the three major Washington-area airports.

Heavy, blowing snow during the afternoon in the Washington area had hampered efforts to keep runways cleared at Dulles and Washington National airports.

“As a general rule, all fights are canceled today,” according to a Dulles Airport Twitter posting that encouraged travelers to check with the airlines and rebook their flights.

More than 300 departures and arrivals at each of New York’s three major airports have been canceled for Sunday, as are more than 200 at Baltimore-Washington International, Philadelphia International, and Charlotte Douglas International, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a Twitter message.

United Continental Holdings Inc. will start limited operations from Newark and New York Sunday and doesn’t plan to resume flying from Washington until Monday, the carrier said in a statement. Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. both plan to start flying from New York, Washington and Philadelphia Sunday, according to statements.

Delta said these plans are dependent on airport and security personnel being able to get to the terminals — a challenge with public transit shut down in some cities.

The recovery on the ground may also take time. CSX Corp. is holding freight trains in the face of the heavy snow, and has warned customers to expect delays of as much as 48 hours moving through the affected region.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who hurried home on Friday from New Hampshire, where he was campaigning for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, declared a state of emergency. New Jersey Transit stopped bus, rail and light-rail service, according to the agency’s website.

The bridges and tunnels leading to and from the city opened at 7 a.m., according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This includes the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, as well as the Bayonne Bridge.

In Washington, the city’s metro and bus service will remain off-line until Monday. Philadelphia halted regional rail and bus service starting at 4 a.m. Saturday. Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, continued to operate on a modified schedule, canceling several trains on the East Coast and halting service south of Washington.

–With assistance from Jim Polson, Henry Goldman, Maggie Otte, Kasia Klimasinska, Mary Schlangenstein, Brendan Case and Kiel Porter.