All of the necessary ingredients to produce a monster nor’easter came together in the Northeast this week, which triggered widespread disruptions, state of emergency declarations and a countless number of wrecks.
Millions of people who were in the path of the snowstorm — in big East Coast cities like New York and Philadelphia — prepared then hunkered down in anticipation of what many meteorologists warned was going to be one of the biggest in several years.
The National Weather Service issued winter storm watches and warnings in parts of 13 states spanning from the mountains of North Carolina to the coast of Maine ahead of the storm. Heavy snow continues to spread northeastward into New England while parts of the interior mid-Atlantic see snow continue to pile up.
Precipitation started out as snow in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., at the onset of the storm. The nation’s capital picked up about an inch of snow prior to a switch to rain during the afternoon on Wednesday, washing away all of what had accumulated. Snowfall across the city of Baltimore ranged from 1-2 inches before a change to rain occurred.
In New York City, 6.5 inches of snow and sleet had piled up in Central Park as of midnight Thursday, easily surpassing the city’s snowfall total from the entire 2019-20 winter season of 4.8 inches.
Transportation crews were up early on Wednesday morning trying to stay ahead of the storm’s snow and ice. Roads from Virginia to Illinois were facing snowy to icy road conditions by Wednesday morning, prompting the Virginia Department of Transportation to tweet a slew of warnings as crews faced the storm they had been preparing for since at least the beginning of the week.
The Ohio Department of Transportation announced that as of 8:15 a.m. EST Wednesday, nearly 600 crews were out treating and plowing roadways across the state — 300 more than had been mobilized an hour previously.
As of 8:15am, we have nearly 600 crews out treating and plowing roadways across the state, including this truck on SR 292 south of Kenton in Hardin County. Please continue to give them plenty of room to work. #ODOTwinter pic.twitter.com/A2POZoVOwm— Ohio Dept of Transportation (@ODOT_Statewide) December 16, 2020
Farther to the south, James Singleton, a meteorologist at the Redwood, Virginia-based station Cable 12 TV, reported that the state police were already warning of icy bridges on Interstate 81and that a VDOT radio had described one roadway as a “solid sheet of ice.” Even with the fleet of plow trucks and brine preparations, the snow and ice were too much to handle in some locations.
State Police advising icy bridges at MM118 on I-81. Just heard a VDOT radio report “solid sheet of ice”. Roads are getting slick fast in spots. #vawx— Jamey Singleton (@jameysingleton) December 16, 2020
“Certainly the worst of the weather thus far has been from northwestern Virginia northward into Pennsylvania where some places have already seen 6 inches to more than a foot of snow,” AccuWeather Meteorologist John Feerick said on Wednesday evening.
Car accidents ramping up
Car accidents started ramping up across Pennsylvania as snow accumulates on roads from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.
AccuWeather National News Reporter Bill Wadell is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the duration of the storm and saw the aftermath of a crash first-hand.
Fortunately, no one was injured and officials were on the scene to help direct traffic around the incident. Many major highways across the Commonwealth have implemented a ban on most commercial vehicles and have reduced the speed limit to 45 mph, including much of interstates 80, 81 and 99.
A driver lost control on a #snow-covered road in #Bethlehem #Pennsylvania and crashed into a front porch. Sounds like everyone is okay. Authorities are asking people to stay home and off the roads. @breakingweather pic.twitter.com/f5gC3ZM6Zr— Bill Wadell (@BillWadell) December 16, 2020
Later in the day on Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania, a major pileup involving over 30 vehicles occurred amid snowy conditions, shutting down the westbound lane for hours. The Pennsylvania State Police confirmed that at least two fatalities occurred due to the crash.
UPDATE: Initial reports indicate this multi-vehicle crash involves 30-60 vehicles with multiple injuries including 2 fatalities.— PA State Police (@PAStatePolice) December 17, 2020
Reminder-Please Stay Home and Do Not travel unless it is absolutely necessary. https://t.co/0TkfYAbTxT
As of Wednesday night, roughly 4 to 8 inches have been reported across the Pittsburgh area. Earlier in the day, emergency crews responded to an accident in Collier Township, located southwest of the city, when another vehicle lost control and slid right toward the people on the scene. Fortunately, the three people on the road were uninjured.
Poughkeepsie, New York Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner told AccuWeather National reporter Dexter Henry how surprised he is to see people on the roadways even though most places are closed.
“Stay off the roads! It’s amazing, there’s no place to go, there’s nothing open and people are on the roads. Stay off the roads, it’s a state of emergency. Get your cars and if you can park in a lot, then park in a lot. Make it easier for us to do our job because it’s going to be a tough one,” Poughkeepsie DPW Commissioner Christopher Gent told Henry.
At least six people were transported to area hospitals after being injured in a multi-vehicle crash on Wednesday evening. Authorities said four of the injuries were said to be serious but not life-threatening, while two of the injuries were minor. The major pileup that shut down part of the Henry Hudson Parkway. The number of vehicles involved is unclear, but police say there were approximately 19 cars involved. According to ABC 7 New York, sources say that 9 of the 19 vehicles had to be towed off the bridge.
Hundreds of flights and trains canceled
Besides the slippery roads causing delays and wrecks across the Northeast, hundreds of flights were canceled and rail service was suspended. Airlines canceled more than 1,200 flights ahead of the winter storm.
Amtrak announced on Tuesday it would operate on a modified schedule in parts of the Northeast and cancel some services from Wednesday to Friday. The Northeast Regional train was set to run only between Newport News and Washington on Wednesday, the company said, and all Acela services for Thursday have been canceled. New Jersey Transit said it would suspend bus service in New York and northern New Jersey and rail service systemwide.
Power outages in North carolina and Virginia
Farther south, ice accumulated across parts of North Carolina and West Virginia, with the highest reported total so far coming from Saluda, North Carolina, located in the southwestern part of the state.
Power outages started to emerge first in Virginia with more than 10,000 outages on Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST. By Wednesday night, power outages had risen to over 50,000 customers in Virginia.
Snowfall and ice were the culprits behind the high power outage numbers during the day on Wednesday. Virginia started to accumulate snow rather quickly once the storm picked up. Albin, Virginia, recorded 6 inches of snow by Wednesday afternoon while Jerome, Virginia, and Kline Gap, West Virginia, followed closely behind with 6.5 inches of snow.
By the time evening rolled around, Albin, Virginia, accumulated another inch of snow which pushed its total to 7 inches so far.
Snow records in Pennsylvania
On Wednesday night, snowfall totals surpassed one foot in portions of central and northern Pennsylvania. One band of intense snow has created a phenomenon known as thundersnow, when lightning and thunder are seen during intense bursts of snow.
The thundersnow was detected near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where around 8 inches of snow has fallen. In State College, Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service office measured 12.5 inches as of 11 p.m. EST Wednesday. To put this in perspective, the entire 2019-20 winter season only had 13.2 inches at this site.
Measured 12.5″ at the office as of 11pm. For reference: the official State College observation site recorded 13.2″ for the ENTIRE 2019-2020 winter season. #PAwx— NWS State College (@NWSStateCollege) December 17, 2020
By early Thursday morning, a heavy band of snow had set up across the southern tier of New York state, with snowfall in excess of 2 feet reported around the Binghamton area.
State of emergency in New Jersey
In New Jersey, where more than 1 foot of snow was forecast in northwest portions of the state, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency ahead of the winter storm which started at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
“State offices will be closed beginning at 1:00 PM. We urge all New Jerseyans to stay off the roads, stay at home, and stay safe,” Murphy wrote.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation issued a commercial vehicle restriction on multiple interstate highways beginning at 1 p.m. The restriction applies to “empty straight CDL-weighted trucks, any passenger vehicles towing trailers, motorcycles and recreational vehicles,” the agency said. New Jersey will receive a wide range of impacts from the powerful storm. Parts of southern New Jersey will be lashed by rain and wind, while northern parts of the state deal with blizzard conditions.
Snow emergency in Boston
A snow emergency was declared in Boston and a parking ban went into effect in the city starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to Mayor Marty Walsh. Officials warned that any vehicles on city streets that serve as snow emergency routes would be towed. City officials also canceled in-person learning for city schools on Thursday and closed city-sponsored mobile COVID-19 testing sites.
“Boston hasn’t seen a sizable snowstorm since March of 2019 — over 21 months ago. I am urging everyone to be ready and prepared,” Walsh said in a statement.
AccuWeather meteorologists predicted anywhere from 10-15 inches of snow for the city through Thursday afternoon. Boston was one of the few Northeast cities that had a decent helping of snow last winter, with a total of 15.2 inches. That total is still well short of what the city averages each winter, which is around 42.9 inches.
A few businesses near Boston decided to close during the storm. This time is a big storm and everbody is worried. So now, I hope you are prepared! Are you? More extreme weather news on Accuweather, Strange Sounds and Steve Quayle.
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