Record-breaking storm unleashes travel havoc on US north-east

Despite the snow and wind gusts of up to 80kph, only a few power outages were reported. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A winter storm piled record-breaking amounts of snow onto parts of the US Northeast on Thursday (Dec 17) and wreaked havoc throughout the region, killing at least four people in traffic crashes and hobbling travel.

The first major snowstorm of the season, which was expected to move out to sea by Thursday evening, prompted officials to urge the region's 50 million residents to stay home.

"Given the heavy (snow) and difficult travel conditions, drivers are encouraged to stay off the road if they can during the storm," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said on Twitter.

Two people were killed in a storm-related pileup of 30 to 60 cars on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania on Wednesday. New York State Troopers reported 600 crashes and two fatalities on Thursday.

The Nor'easter, which delivered freezing rain and a wintry mix to some Mid-Atlantic states on Wednesday, unleashed the most snow on an inland swath from north central Pennsylvania through southern New Hampshire.

The heaviest accumulation by Thursday morning was 114cm near Binghamton, New York, a record for December if not all time, as snowfall amounts in parts of central Pennsylvania topped 102cm, according to meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service.

"It's a historic storm for areas inland that got underneath the snow band," Oravec said by phone from the NWS Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland.

"If you get underneath one of those bands, the snow rate can be tremendous - four or five inches (10cm) per hour - and that's what occurred today," he said.

The storm left the New York City area with six to 15-25cm, more than all of last year's winter storms combined, as it wound down on Thursday morning, the National Weather Service said.

Plane slides off runway

The New York State capital of Albany was set to get more than 30 inches (76 cm) and Boston had nearly a foot (30 cm) with several hours of snowfall yet to go on Thursday morning, it said.

For areas of the Eastern Seaboard near the coast, including southern New Jersey and Massachusetts' Cape Cod, the storm brought rain, high winds and some flooding.

BWI Airport near Baltimore reported that a Spirit Airlines jet with 111 people aboard slid off a runway as it taxied after landing on Thursday morning. No injuries were reported.

Dozens of flights were cancelled at other major airports, including 123 at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Amtrak announced dozens of cancellations on its busy Boston-Washington corridor on Thursday, including all Acela service.

Mass transit was snarled with delays and cancellations including New Jersey Transit's rail and bus service in the northern part of the state, which was set to resume later on Thursday.

Despite the snow and wind gusts of up to 80kph, only a few power outages were reported, including 35,000 in Virginia and 4,100 in New Jersey.

While a winter storm usually means a "snow day" for kids, many school districts, including New York City public schools, stayed open and continued operating remotely in the pandemic mode they have been using for months.

The storm may have slowed some deliveries of the newly available Covid-19 vaccine, but officials did not expect it to disrupt the pipeline.

"I'm not aware of any place that was expecting it and won't get it," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told a briefing on Thursday. "It just might be a little later than otherwise expected."

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