New England slammed as powerful blizzard churns north

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(CNN) — Rise and shine, New England.

You can’t — or really shouldn’t — head out to Dunkin’ Donuts for a pick-me-up coffee Tuesday morning. But you don’t have to leave the house to get a jolt: Just look outside at the swirling, rapidly falling snow or listen to the howling winds.

New York City residents woke up breathing a sigh of relief after the blizzard of 2015 dumped snow there, but not to the extent some had feared. In fact, the blizzard warning once in effect for much of New Jersey and New York was lifted Tuesday morning.

For the rest of the Northeast, it’s still too early to exhale.

“We have drifting (outside) our facility of up to 2 to 3 feet,” Sgt. Mark Cabral from the Barnstable Police Department in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, said Tuesday morning. “It’s still coming down pretty heavy, and it’s whiteout conditions.”

It’s not just the Cape. Worcester had at least 25 inches of snow on the ground, with Boston also getting well over a foot, according to the National Weather Service.

And it’s still coming. A blizzard warning remains in effect in some parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts through early Wednesday morning. That means not just more heavy snow, but powerful winds gusting near hurricane levels.

Nantucket and its 15,000 or so residents have been lashed especially hard, with overnight gusts of 78 mph. Police Chief William Pittman told CNN that “we’ve lost power to the entire island.” That’s in addition to flooding, heavy snow and downed trees on the Massachusetts island.

The good news? People seemed to have heeded the warnings about a storm forecast as “crippling” and “potentially historic” by stocking up and staying inside. The Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said there were about 200 people in shelters statewide, while Cabral said Cape roads are largely clear of all but emergency vehicles.

One of the millions staying home is Rafi Menachem. As his wife, a doctor, stays stuck at work at Boston Medical Center, he’s trying to hold down the fort in nearby Brookline.

“We’re hunkered down with food, shelter and water,” Menachem said. “I’m worried about electricity.”

N.Y. mayor: ‘We’ve dodged a bullet’

Such worries were well-founded.

For days, officials around the Northeast have told citizens to stock up on essentials so that they could stay home, and off the roads. States of emergency were declared, preemptively, in seven states: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

It was all thanks to a massive winter storm with the potential to turn 58 million people’s lives upside down. School was called off for not just Tuesday but Wednesday as well. Public transit shut down. Businesses closed, suggesting a far-reaching economic impact in one of America’s busiest commercial regions.

Those alarms sounded in, among other places, New York City.

Yet by mid-morning, snow wasn’t even falling there. By then, travel bans in New Jersey and New York — even places like Long Island’s Islip, which got more than 20 inches of snow — had been lifted, even if some restrictions remained in effect in neighboring Connecticut.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called all the warning and preparations “a better safe than sorry scenario.”

“We’ve dodged the bullet,” he told CNN. “This is nothing like we feared it would be.”

Blocked in, hunkered down

The forecast even improved for Boston. Once expected to see up to 30 inches of snow, the Massachusetts capital and surrounding areas should now get 15 to 25 inches, according to forecasters.

Still, 2 feet of snow isn’t anything to scoff at.

Just ask all those who had their cars snowed in, their front doors blocked and their backyards littered with branches Tuesday.

In picturesque Marshfield, Massachusetts, waters soared over seawalls and flooded homes and businesses surrounding the Brant Rock Esplanade. Hundreds in that coastal town lost power.

“The worst part is the steady winds, I think they were approaching 50 mph,” said Pittman, Nantucket’s police chief.

Thousands of flights canceled

And if you’re trying to escape this wintry mess by air, forget about it.

Some 4,650 flights in and out of the United States had already been canceled as of 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, the flight-tracking website Flightaware.com reported. That’s on top of 2,800 scrubbed Monday. Hundreds more have already been called off for Wednesday.

The hardest-hit airports were in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Boston’s Logan International Airport won’t reopen until Wednesday.

The major U.S. airlines are offering fee-free rebooking of flights to and from the Northeast through Tuesday.

For some travelers, it was touch and go. Ricardo Canadinhas looked through an ice-coated window on his Virgin Atlantic flight before takeoff. He could barely see. “#isthissafe,” he tweeted.

Amtrak said it was suspending Northeast Regional and Acela Express services between New York and Boston for Tuesday because of the weather.

Other Amtrak train routes in the region will operate at reduced frequencies, the rail line said.

From stocking up to snowball fights

The storm warnings seemed to impress even the most jaded Northeasterner, as groceries flew off store shelves from Brooklyn to Bangor.

Michelle Thompson, a professor who lives in New York, found little left at a Greenwich Village grocery store.

“These are the sorts of supplies New Yorkers need,” she said, gazing at the empty shelves. “Apparently, fresh bread is imperative as well eggs. Don’t forget the dried pasta and sauce!”

It was the same story at the Star Market, where Menachem shops in Boston.

“A majority of the produce, deli meats, eggs, milk and bread were all gone,” he said.

Still, it’s not like everyone was shaking in their snow boots.

As Steve Nogueira, a retired meteorologist who lives in Taunton, Massachusetts, said, “We’re New Englanders,” We’ve done it before.”

And the coastal city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, could soon be shaking for a different reason. More than 1,000 have been invited, via Facebook, to a massive community snowball fight — one that organizer Devin Murphy joked is in the proud tradition dating back to around 1624, when the city was first settled.

“Hitch up those sled dogs you keep for days like this and get up here,” wrote one participant. “LOL.”

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