East Coast snow storm: New York braces for a foot of snow

The East Coast is bracing for Wednesday's big snow storm. New York is expected to bear the brunt this time, with airlines already canceling flights in the region and schools shut for the day.

By , Staff writer

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    Commuters climb over a pile of snow as they walk in single file to their bus in Washington D.C., Tuesday.
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Cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are getting ready for Snowmageddon Part II.

Only this time, the sequel to the snowstorm that dumped 30 inches of snow in the Washington area is expected to deposit a wet heavy mix on cities that were spared last time – New York and Boston, for example.

Since the snow may degenerate into blizzard conditions, weather analysts are warning there could be lengthy air traffic delays, huge traffic backups, and a long day for snowplow operators. Already, many school districts have canceled classes for Wednesday. And utility crews are gearing up for the thousands of people who could potentially lose their power when wet sloppy snow topples trees onto power lines.

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“This will be quite a disruptive storm,” says Joe Lundberg, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pa. “There is just the question of how much snow we are going to get.”

His initial forecasts envision more than a foot of snow in the New York metro area, six to 12 inches in Washington and Baltimore, more than a foot in Philadelphia, and perhaps a foot of the white stuff in Boston and Providence, too. Making matters worse, the storm will have high winds, gusting as much as 40 miles per hour.

That could produce high drifts and also result in power outages.

The timing of the storm is creating problems for some cities. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press conference Tuesday pointed out that the worst of the storm will come in the afternoon. As a result, New York decided to cancel school rather than risk trying to get children home in a blizzard.

“The storm is coming in at just the wrong time,” says Mr. Bloomberg.

Airlines cancel flights

The transportation system is likely to feel the first effects. Airlines will start to “cordon off” the snowy areas of the country, says Alan Bender, a professor of aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“They will move the planes around so as not to wreck the entire system,” says Mr. Bender. “They will do everything they can to make sure they don’t have planes stuck in New York.”

Continental Airlines canceled at least 400 flights out of Newark and several hundred regional partner flights as well that were scheduled Wednesday. Southwest is also canceling flights.

Taking the train may not be the greatest option either. As a result of the snowstorm last weekend, Amtrak scaled back its operations along the Northeast corridor Tuesday. “A lot of passengers just couldn’t get to the train stations yet,” says Clifford Cole, an Amtrak spokesman. “We will probably have a revised plan of operation on Wednesday as well.”

Amtrak's Capitol Limited service between New York and Chicago is also curtailed because of a 113-car derailment on CSX track in Cumberland, Md. However, the Lake Shore Limited, which goes through Albany to Chicago, is still operating, says Mr. Cole.

The roads may see some of the worst conditions. Siim Soot, a professor of transportation at the University of Illinois, Chicago, says it’s not unusual in bad snowstorms to see tractor-trailers jackknifed or flipped over. “They have to maintain their schedules so they have a greater propensity for accidents which can be devastating for traffic,” he says.

In fact, New York’s Bloomberg urged commuters to leave the car behind except for an emergency. “Please use mass transit,” he said.

Valentine’s Day spending spared

If the storm does become blizzard-like, it’s likely to keep potential shoppers at home.

“The economic impact will be significant,” says Scott Bernhardt, chief operating officer of Planalytics, a business weather forecasting service in Berwyn, Pa. “Snow removal is expensive and so is a lack of commerce.”

The good news is that the storm isn’t hitting over the long weekend, which is also Valentines Day, Mr. Bernhardt notes.

“I guess you would call that the silver lining,” he says.

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