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U.S. East Storm Shuts Washington Offices, Imperils Travel

By Brian K. Sullivan and Anna Shiryaevskaya
January 21, 2014 9:25 AM EST 15 Comments
Cold weather in Washington
Cold weather in Washington

Forecasts for more than 6 inches of snow closed federal offices in Washington and forced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to scrub his inauguration party as a wind-whipped storm and frigid weather threatened travel from Washington to Boston.

A winter storm warning in effect from North Carolina’s mountains to the Massachusetts coast calls for 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) of snow in New York and more on Long Island, according to the National Weather Service.

“The whole area that is under that warning looks to get a half a foot of snow or more,” said Rob Carolan, founder of Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. “It won’t affect the morning commute in New York or New England, but it makes for a rough commute home.”

As of 8:30 a.m. New York time, 2,054 flights had been canceled around the U.S., according to FlightAware, a tracking service in Houston.

Related: Why Is It So Cold? The Polar Vortex, Explained

Government offices in Washington were closed, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said on its website. Christie, who’s to be sworn in to a second term as New Jersey’s governor today, canceled tonight’s party at Ellis Island.

As the snow piles up along the East Coast through the night, temperatures will fall across the central U.S. The upper Midwest may be hit by “bitter wind-chills” of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 Celsius), while temperatures will be as much as 25 degrees below average from the Mississippi Valley into the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

Blizzard Alert

In Massachusetts, the storm will bring wind gusts of at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour along the coast south of Boston to Cape Cod and the state’s islands. A blizzard warning, meaning visibility may drop as heavy snow mixes with the high winds, has been issued for the area.

“Those venturing outside may become lost or disoriented, so persons in the warning area are advised to stay indoors,” the weather service said.

Arctic air is making a return to the U.S. after frigid weather set records across the Midwest earlier this month, while readings dropped to single-digits far into the South.

From today until Jan. 25, average temperatures in the eastern U.S. and Canada are expected to be at least 8 degrees below normal, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. From the Great Lakes to New York, they may be 15 degrees lower.

The cold air is making what would have been a small storm much worse, Carolan said. The low temperatures will contribute to higher snow totals, he said.

Earlier Freeze

The freeze in the first two weeks of January curtailed travel and cut the total demand for oil in the U.S., the International Energy Agency said today in its monthly oil market report. Canceled flights, reduced car travel and fewer fuel deliveries caused by poor road conditions hurt consumption at the same time as natural gas and electricity gained market share for heating, the Paris-based adviser to 28 industrialized energy consuming nations said.

U.S. natural gas contracts rose as much as 1.8 percent to $4.403 per million British thermal units at 9:21 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. An estimated 49 percent of U.S. households use gas for heating, said the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistical arm. Ultra-low sulfur diesel futures, which include heating oil, added as much as 2 percent to $3.0826 a gallon, the highest intraday level since Dec. 31.

Floor trading on the Nymex was shut yesterday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the U.S.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net; Anna Shiryaevskaya in London at ashiryaevska@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Banker at bbanker@bloomberg.net

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