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Week’s Second U.S. Storm Snarls Travel, Shuts Schools

By Brian K. Sullivan and Lynn Doan
February 05, 2014 4:06 PM EST 17 Comments
Central Park
Central Park

The second winter storm of the week swept into the U.S. Northeast with snow and ice, grounding more than 2,000 planes, closing schools and cutting power to more than a million customers.

Boston received 9.7 inches (25 centimeters) of snow by 1 p.m., the National Weather Service said. Four inches of snow fell in Manhattan’s Central Park, with a quarter-inch of ice on top of that, before the storm wound down, said David Stark, an agency meteorologist in Upton, New York. More than 12 inches were reported in New York City’s northern suburbs.

Travelers should be careful as temperatures drop into the 20s Fahrenheit (about minus 7 Celsius), Stark said.

“Watch out for treacherous roads,” he said. “Anything that has melted, any standing water, will be refreezing tonight.”

A total of 2,760 flights into, out of or around the U.S. were canceled as of 3:36 p.m. New York time, said FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. The hardest-hit major carrier was JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU), which scrubbed a quarter of its flights, according to Real Hamilton-Romeo, a spokeswoman.

Power Out

Almost 800,000 homes and businesses from Ohio to New York, most of them in Philadelphia’s suburbs, were without power as of about 4 p.m. according to company websites. Exelon Corp. (EXC)’s Peco utility, based in Philadelphia, reported more than 625,000 customers blacked out at midday.

“We’re seeing extensive damage,” Greg Smore, a Peco spokesman, said in an interview. “We had a very heavy, wet, dense snow already on the trees. The weather that came in this morning was a mixture of sleet and freezing rain and that kind of encapsulated those trees that were already weighed down.”

Seven inches of snow and ice fell in the Philadelphia area from 7 p.m. Monday to 9 a.m. today, said the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

Damage assessment hasn’t been done because tree limbs are still felling power lines, Smore said. Some customers probably will be without power into the weekend, he said.

The New York City Emergency Management Office posted a hazardous-travel advisory because of the ice and a state of emergency was declared in New Jersey. By noon, New Jersey Transit resumed service on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line, suspended because of icy overhead wires, and New York reopened Interstate 84 between Pennsylvania and Connecticut at about 2:30 p.m.

Salt Shortage

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who also declared an emergency, said parts of New York City and Long Island face a shortage of salt. He said the state would distribute salt to areas “that have truly a dire situation.”

“The bad news is, there’s snow and ice,” Cuomo said at a press conference today. “The good news is we have been dealing with so many storms with such frequency that we’ve developed quite the expertise with storm management.”

Boston public schools closed for the day, according to the district website, along with Northeastern University, Boston University and Boston College.

The snow will begin to wind down over eastern and central Massachusetts before dark, said Alan Dunham, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts. Sleet and freezing rain was reported across Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, while rain fell on Cape Cod and the state’s offshore islands, Dunham said.

What’s Next

When the storm passes, the Northeast will get a three-day respite before the next system brings a chance of more snow for the weekend Bernie Rayno, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc., said in an interview at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta.

Central Park received 8 inches of snow Feb. 3 from a storm that snarled travel and grounded many football fans trying to get home after the previous day’s Super Bowl game.

Weather patterns this winter have brought repeated rounds of polar cold into the U.S. from Canada, bitter weather that has mainly struck the Midwest and has been felt all the way to the Gulf Coast, said Todd Crawford, a principal scientist at Weather Services International in Andover, Massachusetts. WSI is owned by The Weather Co.

The cold gets its start in the Pacific, he said in an interview at the AMS meeting in Atlanta. A deep area of thunderstorm activity over Indonesia has generated heat in the basin, accelerating the jet stream, which is made of ribbons of very strong winds that move weather systems around the globe.

Cold Weather

That river of air has run into a ridge of high pressure over Alaska, sending it northward before it drops across the continental U.S., Crawford said. As it moves south through Canada, it picks up polar air that has sent temperatures lower throughout the U.S. several times since January.

“It has stayed cold,” he said. “It’s a stable pattern and that’s a little strange, especially in winter.”

The eastern U.S. has a 50 to 80 percent chance for below-normal temperatures through Feb. 14, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The cold has boosted energy demand. Natural gas prices have surged 25 percent so far this year. About 49 percent of U.S. households use gas for heating purposes, Energy Information Administration data show.

The weekend storm needs to be watched and the chances are good snow will fall somewhere from Washington to Boston, Rayno said. However, he doesn’t believe the system will be as intense as earlier computer models predicted.

“This is the problem with models,” Rayno said. The weather system that will fuel the storm is still over the Pacific Ocean and looking so far ahead can lead to inaccuracies, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Atlanta at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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