Heavy snowfall, freezing rain and dangerously icy roads covered the northeastern US on Wednesday as millions of people from central Pennsylvania to New York City and a dozen states braced for more than 12 inches of snow across the region overnight.
Winter storm Gail struck Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC as it moved north, expected to cover roughly 1,000 miles from North Carolina into Maine. By 6.30pm, the highest reported snowfall – more than 9 inches of snow within the storm’s first brush along the coastal US – was reported in northern Virginia and West Virginia, according to the National Weather Service.
In the hours to follow, the “major” nor’easter is expected to dump a foot of snow across the region into southern New England into Thursday morning, with up to two inches per hour overnight, the agency reported.
The agency’s Weather Prediction Center also said that the Poconos of Pennsylvania and Castskills of New York could be inundated with up to 2 feet of snow within that period.
The nor’easter – one of the biggest storms in several years for some areas – threatened to cut power across the eastern coast and inland areas, and the weather service warned that “confidence is high” that the impacted region will endure “significant impacts” including travel disruptions and power outages.
Governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey declared states of emergency as the storm approached; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo prepared to do the same.
Airports saw cancelled and massively delayed flights, while the snow and icy roads snarled traffic across the region. City and state officials urged people to stay off roads.
“This is our first major storm of the season and I’m urging the public to stay home this evening and throughout the overnight hours to let our crews do their jobs and clear the roads,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Just remember – if you’re stuck in traffic, our plows are too.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio closed schools for in-person learning on Thursday, though students won’t have a snow day and instead shift to online classes. The city’s coronavirus test sites will also be closed for 24 hours, but the storm will not impact the city’s anticipated roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine for health workers.
The winter storm is here and New York’s Strongest are ready to go. Plows and salt spreaders are out this evening. Help us keep the streets safe: stay home.
If you must travel, use public transportation. This could be the biggest storm of the year. Stay home and stay safe. pic.twitter.com/CD90IB3Qk8
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) December 17, 2020
The storm also dealt a blow to the city’s struggling restaurants, ordered to close newly installed outdoor seating areas on Wednesday afternoon as the storm approached, giving the city’s sanitation department room to clear streets where roadway dining had been installed.
City officials sought to reassure owners that the city was well-equipped to sweep the streets mapping out where these structures impede the roadway.
In January 2016, snow accumulation of 27.5 inches was recorded in Central Park and New York all but ground to a halt, with many subway services suspended and private vehicles banned from the streets as snowplows fought to keep roadways clear.
Despite all the experience that the city has for dealing with winter storms, sometimes timing can be everything.
When six inches of snow fell just before the evening rush hour on 15 November 2018, New York City and northern New Jersey were paralysed by falling trees, car crashes, and gridlocked traffic that stopped snowplows from doing their job.