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Snow, wind hammer US Northeast in ‘life-threatening’ blizzard

New York – A powerful winter storm engulfed the US Northeast yesterday, blanketing much of the region in heavy snow, blasting coastal areas with high winds and bringing New York City and other major urban centers to nearly a standstill.

The nor’easter ― an East Coast storm with winds blowing from the northeast ― could bring accumulations of 1 to 2 feet (31cm to 61cm) to the country’s most densely populated region before tapering off today, the National Weather Service said.

By early yesterday afternoon, the nor’easter had dumped as much as 19 inches (48cm) of snow in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and 17 inches (43cm) in parts of New York City. More than 13 inches (33cm) had accumulated in Manhattan’s Central Park, as bands snow began moving north into New England.

If the blizzard achieves its maximum potential, it would be the first winter storm to generate more than 2 feet of snow in New York City since 2016, when a record-breaking blizzard dumped 27.5 inches (70cm) on the country’s most populous city, according to the weather service.

Damaging winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour (48 to 64km per hour) were forecast along the New Jersey coast. In Massachusetts, the weather service forecast gusts up to 60 mph (97 kph) on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

“It’s the storm of the century!” predicted snowplow operator James Carew, 56, of Union, New Jersey, who said he had been clearing snow for the past 30 years.

The storm’s intensity and the rapid buildup of snow means multiple visits to clear residential driveways like the one he was plowing in Maplewood, New Jersey. “This is a 10 out of 10 for storms,” Carew said early yesterday afternoon.

Winter storm warnings and weather advisories were in place across the Northeast. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency on Sunday, suspending public bus and commuter rail service for all of yesterday.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed restrictions on non-essential travel starting at 6am EST (1100 GMT) yesterday due to heavy snowfall and strong winds expected to batter the city. De Blasio also announced the suspension of in-person learning at the city’s public schools through today.

New York state governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in the city and 44 other counties, and warned of possible road closures in the hours ahead.

“This is a dangerous situation. A life-threatening situation,” Cuomo told a noontime news conference. “Expect closures. It’s going to get very bad very quickly.”

Outdoor subway service in New York City was suspended as of 2pm EST (1900 GMT), officials said. Upwards of 90 per cent of flights at New York City-area airports have been cancelled, according to Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and operations at La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports in Queens have been suspended.

The PATH commuter train service linking Manhattan and New Jersey also suspended service as of 3pm EST (2000 GMT), Cotton said.

The stormy weather affected more than just roads and travel as Covid-19 vaccination sites and testing locations were forced to close or change their schedules.

All six vaccine mega-sites across New Jersey were closed yesterday, and vaccine appointments were rescheduled at many New York state-run sites. Vaccinations and testing were also suspended at New York City public hospitals and health centres.

De Blasio said that, with the city facing up to 22 inches (56cm) of snow, vaccinations would be postponed today as well. “The storm is disrupting our vaccination effort, and we need to keep people safe,” he told a news briefing.

In Boston, health officials announced the closure yesterday of a Covid-19 vaccine clinic at the Reggie Lewis Center, a large indoor sports centre.

Still, some Northeasterners greeted the heavy snowfall with excitement, taking to social media to share photos of streets, parks and backyards blanketed with the white stuff, as well as happy pets playing in the snow.

“The amount of snow in my backyard is insane! Plus it’s still snowing! It’s halfway up the back fence,” New York City resident Sarah posted on Twitter. ― Reuters

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