A “life-threatening” blizzard barreled into the U.S. Northeast, affecting up to 20 percent of Americans as it kept workers and students housebound, halted thousands of flights and prompted officials to ban cars from roads and shut down public transport.
With memories still fresh of Sandy, a superstorm that ravaged the East Coast in 2012, governors of at least eight East Coast states declared emergencies. The storm could affect up to 60 million people in nearly a dozen states.
The National Weather Service (NWS) on Tuesday lowered snowfall forecasts, but still said a “life-threatening blizzard” could dump as many as 24 inches (61 cm) of snow.
Sustained winds in the area might hit 40 miles per hour (64 kph), NWS said, though gusts as high as 78 mph (126 kph) were recorded in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Preliminary results from the NWS in Massachusetts showed as many as 13 inches of snow had fallen by early Tuesday in parts of the state. Manhattan’s Central Park was covered by just over 6 inches and almost 15 inches fell on the Islip Airport on Long Island, according to unofficial NWS figures.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned travel from 11 p.m. ET for all but emergency vehicles on roads in 13 counties, including New York City, suburban Westchester and Long Island, with the threat of a $300 fine for violators.
“If you are in your car and you are on any road, town, village, city, it doesn’t matter, after 11 o’clock, you will technically be committing a crime,” Cuomo said. “It could be a matter of life and death so caution is required.”
Governors in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island issued statewide driving bans for most motorists, bringing travel across the region to a standstill.
“Please stay home,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told residents, ordering all but the most essential government workers in his state to stay at home from Monday afternoon until Wednesday at the earliest.
In New York’s Long Island, Suffolk County Police said that a teenager had died late on Monday when he crashed into a lamppost in the street where he was snow-tubing.
‘Snowmageddon’ on social media
Stuck at home, many Easterners turned to social media to give voice to their frustration, adopting such storm-related hashtags as #blizzardof2015, #Snowmageddon2015 and #Snowpocalypse.
“Across NE, millions are panicked they may lose internet and have to talk to their families. Trying hard to remember names. #Snowmageddon2015,” tweeted Stuart Stevens.
The United Nations headquarters gave itself a day off on Tuesday. East Coast schools, including New York City — the nation’s largest public school system, serving 1 million students — shut down. Universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, canceled classes.
Stock exchanges, including Intercontinental Exchange Inc’s New York Stock Exchange unit, Nasdaq OMX Group, and BATS Global Markets, said they expected to stay open for normal operating hours on Tuesday.
The last time bad weather closed the stock markets was in October 2012 when Sandy hit the East Coast with flooding, punishing winds and widespread power outages.
The brutal weather paralyzed the New York City metropolitan area, with a shutdown of all subway, bus and commuter rail services on Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road. It was the first time the city subway had been halted due to snow.
New Jersey Transit and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said on their websites that bus, rail and other services would also be suspended on Tuesday.
Vacationers and business travelers faced headaches as airlines canceled thousands of U.S. flights, with Boston and New York airports most heavily affected, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.
New York authorities said “virtually all” flights at LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday would be canceled and cancellations at John F. Kennedy International Airport would be “significant.”
Coastal flood warnings were issued from Delaware to Maine, and National Weather Service officials in Boston reported early on Tuesday that waves just a few miles outside of Boston Harbor approached 20 feet (6 meters).
Amtrak suspended rail services on Tuesday between New York and Boston, and into New York state, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.
The biggest snowfall on record in New York City came during the storm of Feb. 11-12, 2006, dropping 26.9 inches (68 cm), according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Louise Ireland)