Heavy snow, high winds threaten U.S. East Coast, thousands of flights cancelled

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A powerful nor’easter swept up the U.S. East Coast on Saturday, threatening to bury parts of 10 states under deep, furiously falling snow accompanied by coastal flooding and high winds that could cut power and leave people shivering in the cold weather expected to follow.

Philadelphia, New York and Boston — the latter of which was under a blizzard warning and forecast to get as much as 60 centimetres of snow — were all in the path of the storm. Airlines cancelled more than 3,000 flights at some of the country’s busiest airports. Amtrak suspended or limited service on the Boston-to-Washington corridor.

Officials from Virginia to Maine warned people to stay off the roads amid potential whiteout conditions.

Rhode Island, all of which was under a blizzard warning, banned all non-emergency road travel starting at 8 a.m.

“This is serious. We’re ready for this storm, and we also need Rhode Islanders to be ready,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “The best way to handle this storm is to stay home tomorrow.”

Delaware allowed only essential personnel to drive in two of its three counties starting Friday night. Massachusetts, where forecasters said some isolated pockets could get as much as 76 centimetres of snow, banned heavy trucks from interstate highways for most of Saturday.

Shoppers stock up

Shoppers crammed stores Friday to stock up on food and buy generators and snowblowers ahead of the nor’easter, a type of storm so named because its winds typically blow from the northeast as it churns up the East Coast.

Many hardy New Englanders took the forecast cheerfully and even looked forward to the storm, given its weekend timing.

Marc Rudkowski, 28, bought French bread and wine Friday at the Star Market in Cambridge, Mass., along with balloons and toys for his dog, who turned 1 on Friday.

“He’s going to love it,” Rudkowski said. “He’s a snow dog.”

A man steps over a flood barrier at the entrance to a building on Long Wharf in Boston on Friday. (Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press)

Merrick McCormack was calm as he unloaded his groceries at a supermarket in Warwick, R.I.

“I don’t fuss with storms. I know in a couple of days, we’re going to be free and clear. No need to panic,” said McCormack, 51, of Cranston.

But there were some concerns about hoarding amid ongoing supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. New England supermarket giant Stop & Shop pleaded with customers to practice restraint.

“We ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” the chain said in a statement.

Blizzard warnings

Parts of 10 states were under blizzard warnings: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Areas closest to the coast were expected to bear the brunt of the storm, which could bring wind gusts as high as 113 km/h in New England.

Coastal New Jersey was forecast to get as much as 46 centimetres of snow and eastern Long Island up to 43 centimetres. Philadelphia, New York City, and parts of the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia could get 25 centimetres or more.

Virginia, where a blizzard this month stranded hundreds of motorists for hours on Interstate 95, did not hesitate to get resources at the ready. In Maryland, the governor mobilized the National Guard.

Washington and Baltimore were forecast to be spared the worst of the snowfall, with only 2.5 to 8 centimetres and 13 centimetres, respectively.

Snow could fall as fast as 12 centimetres per hour in spots, including Connecticut, where officials worried about having enough snowplow drivers amid shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.

The worst of the storm was expected to blow by Sunday morning into Canada, where several provinces were under warnings.

One saving grace, at least in parts of Massachusetts: The snow should fall light and flaky because it is coming with cold weather that dries it out, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for the commercial firm Atmospheric Environmental Research.

That means lousy snowballs — and snow that’s less capable of snapping tree branches and tearing down power lines.

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