July 18, 2024


Obey Your Travel.

Heavy Snowfall in Northeast Disrupts Travel and Vaccine Rollout

20 min read



Powerful Snowstorm Slams Northeast

Heavy snow and high winds pounded New York City and surrounding areas, causing dangerous conditions across the region.

“I know more is coming, so I’m just doing this in shifts because I think we’re going to get a few more inches.” “The storm is disrupting our vaccination effort, and we need to keep people safe. We don’t want folks, especially seniors, going out in unsafe conditions.”

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Heavy snow and high winds pounded New York City and surrounding areas, causing dangerous conditions across the region.CreditCredit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

A powerful winter storm pummeled much of the Northeastern United States on Monday, canceling flights, shutting down parts of the nation’s largest subway and disrupting travel for millions of people along the I-95 corridor.

By Monday night at least one person had died because of the storm, the police said.

In New York City, more than 16 inches of snow had fallen in Central Park by 7 p.m., according to the National Weather Service, and another few inches were expected overnight.

Earlier forecasts had predicted up to two feet of snow, which would have made the storm one of the biggest in the city’s history. But by late afternoon, most of the heavy snowfall bands that had been blanketing the city with one to two inches of snow an hour had moved north.

“That’s extremely intense snow,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “That’s blinding snow. You do not want to be out if there’s any way to avoid it.”

The storm prompted officials to close aboveground service on the city’s subway system, and in-person learning at city schools was canceled until Wednesday. The city postponed coronavirus vaccination appointments scheduled for Monday and Tuesday to later in the week.

A foot of snow fell across much of New Jersey, with 20 inches reported in Hopatcong and nearly that much in Bridgewater and Randolph, the National Weather Service said. Roxbury, Conn., and Framingham, Mass., got about a foot of snow, while the Boston area received a few inches. More than a foot of snow was reported in parts of Bucks County, Pa., and the National Weather Service said some of the region had reported up to 18 inches of snow.

In Allentown, Penn., the police said they responded to a call that a 67-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease had walked away from her home early Monday morning. She was later found lying in the snow, dead from hypothermia, according to the county coroner.

A passenger at the Fordham Road subway station in New York on Monday before outdoor service was suspended at 2 p.m., closing 204 of the system’s stations.
Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

Outdoor subway service in New York City will resume at 5 a.m. Tuesday and Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad plan to start running again by 4 a.m. after suspending operations because of the storm on Monday afternoon, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said.

“We understand the subway and commuter rail lines are critical for essential workers who need to get to work,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement late Monday night.

Residents should avoid nonessential travel and expect delays, the statement said. Buses are continuing their routes on a reduced schedule.

The shutdown affected lines across the city and closed 204 of the system’s 472 stations, mostly in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, according to a map shared by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subway, buses and two commuter lines. Passengers were required to disembark at the last underground station before the train goes above ground.

Southbound service on the F line ended in Brooklyn at the Jay Street-MetroTech station, for example. In Queens, the 7 line ended northbound service at Hunters Point Avenue. In the Bronx, northbound service on the 6 line ended at Hunts Point Avenue.

The M.T.A. previously suspended aboveground subway service — while keeping underground service running — during a blizzard in January 2016. But the only time the whole subway system was closed because of a snowstorm was in 2015, when Mr. Cuomo ordered it shut down at 11 p.m. on Jan. 26.

That announcement caught transit workers by surprise and they were forced to scramble to bring the vast network to a halt within hours. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he found out about the closure when the public did. The storm largely spared the city, and the subway started to slowly reopen the next day, though the closure had disrupted the city’s economic life.

The subway was also closed in August 2011 ahead of Tropical Storm Irene and in 2012 ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

In the spring, officials decided to halt regularly scheduled overnight service for the first time in the M.T.A.’s history, shutting the system down from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to disinfect trains, equipment and stations during the coronavirus pandemic.




N.Y.C. Snowstorm Delays Vaccinations

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York postponed coronavirus vaccinations to prevent older residents from traveling to appointments in blizzard-like conditions.

The storm is disrupting our vaccination effort, and we need to keep people safe. We don’t want folks, especially seniors, going out in unsafe conditions to get vaccinated. We know we can reschedule appointments very quickly because, of course, we have supply. We’re going to use the supply we have. Our problem is lack of supply. So we can take the supply we have and distribute it very quickly in the days to come, and make sure everyone gets the appointments. But it’s not safe out there today. So vaccinations are canceled today. They’re also going to be canceled tomorrow. Based on what we are seeing right now, we believe that tomorrow, getting around the city will be difficult, it’ll be icy, it’ll be treacherous. We do not want seniors, especially, out in those conditions. So we’re going to have vaccinations off for today and tomorrow, come back strong on Wednesday. We’ll be able to catch up quickly because, again, we have a vast amount of capacity. We don’t have enough vaccine. So we’ll simply use the days later in the week. Crank up those schedules, get people rescheduled into those days.

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On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York postponed coronavirus vaccinations to prevent older residents from traveling to appointments in blizzard-like conditions.CreditCredit…James Estrin/The New York Times

With snow continuing to fall into the evening and a winter storm warning extended into early Tuesday, New York officials said on Monday that coronavirus vaccinations scheduled for Tuesday at government-run sites would be postponed for a second straight day.

Heavy snow was also complicating vaccination efforts in Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and elsewhere. New Jersey planned to close six state-run vaccination sites on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said he did not want older residents traveling to vaccine appointments on slippery roads and sidewalks amid blizzard-like conditions with gusty winds.

“Based on what we are seeing right now, we believe tomorrow, getting around the city will be difficult,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It will be icy, it will be treacherous.”

He said he believed that the city could make up the appointments later in the week.

“We have a vast amount of capacity; we don’t have enough vaccine,” he said. “We’ll simply use the days later in the week, crank up those schedules, get people rescheduled into those days.”

The delays caused by the storm were yet another hiccup in a vaccine rollout that has been plagued by inadequate supply, buggy sign-up systems and confusion over New York State’s strict eligibility guidelines. The vaccine is available to residents 65 and older as well as a wide range of workers designated “essential.”

About 800,000 doses had been administered in the city as of Monday, Mr. de Blasio said.

In a similar move, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office announced later on Monday that several state-run vaccination sites in and around the city — including at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan; Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens; Jones Beach and Stony Brook University on Long Island; and the Westchester County Center in White Plains — would be closed for a second straight day on Tuesday.

Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference on Monday that New York’s seven-day average positive test rate was 4.8 percent, the 24th straight day it had declined. He added that the state had administered about 1.96 million doses of the vaccine.

In the Philadelphia area, city-run testing and vaccine sites were closed on Monday. Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and parts of the Washington area were following suit. Some areas away from the center of the storm were expected to remain open for vaccinations, including parts of Massachusetts and upstate New York.


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By early Monday morning, six inches of snow had already fallen in New York City, as officials prepared for widespread power losses and high winds. The winter storm is expected to produce more than a foot of snow in some areas.CreditCredit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

The advancing snowstorm throttled travel across the Northeast on Monday, prompting the cancellation of hundreds of flights across the region.

In New York City on Monday, airline carriers canceled all commercial flights at both Kennedy Airport and La Guardia Airport. Philadelphia International Airport reported 100 cancellations and 20 delays, and there were nearly 200 cancellations and about 10 delays at Boston Logan International Airport.

In New York City, a state of emergency restricted nonessential travel on Monday, and Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said on Sunday that most of New Jersey Transit’s bus and rail operations would be temporarily suspended because of the storm.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Monday that there could be partial closures of major thoroughfares or aboveground subway lines. “Plows cannot keep up with the rate of snow,” he said.

Long Island Railroad service on Monday is operating on a weekend schedule, and MetroNorth service will end early. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, which describes itself as the “busiest bus terminal in the world,” all bus service was suspended on Monday.

On the roads, tandems and empty trailers were banned on parts of Interstates 87 and 84 as of 5 a.m. Monday. Restrictions were also in effect for areas of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, including reduced speeds of 45 m.p.h.

Travel along and west of the Interstate 95 corridor from Pennsylvania to Maine will quite likely be affected, the National Weather Service said.

What the airlines are saying:

  • American Airlines “proactively canceled 245 total flights” on Monday and issued a travel alert for 28 airports because of the winter weather in the Northeast, said Whitney Zastrow, a spokeswoman for the airline. “If a customer chooses not to fly due to the impacts of this storm, American will waive change fees for future travel,’’ she said.

  • Delta canceled 360 of its Monday flights nationwide, said Martha Whitt, an airline spokeswoman. The airline announced that approximately 120 flights on Tuesday have been “proactively canceled, with additional schedule adjustments likely as the storm continues.”

  • United Airlines canceled about 380 flights on Monday because of winter storms and canceled an additional 150 flights for Tuesday — though that number could change, according to Leslie Scott, a spokeswoman.

A snowstorm blanketed the area near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan in a photograph published in The New York Times in January 1913.
Credit…The Pictorial News Co.

Some National Weather Service models indicated that up to two feet of snow could fall in New York City, making it one of the heaviest snowstorms in the city’s history.

The highest total snowfall came over three days in January 2016, when 27.5 inches of snow fell in Central Park, with 27.3 inches falling on Jan. 23, a daily record, according to the Weather Service. The second highest occurred in February 2006, with 26.9 inches of snow.

The fifth highest was in February 2010, when 20.9 inches fell.

The city has seen storms drop 20 or more inches of snow only seven times since the mid-1800s, according to the Weather Service.

Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said on Monday that forecasts predicted “upwards of 20 inches for the city,” with snowfall picking up in the early afternoon.

The Mount Washington Observatory and summit in New Hampshire. In the winter, said an observatory manager, it becomes an “arctic island.”
Credit…Cappi Thompson/Getty Images

The major snowstorm pounding the Northeast has forced schools to close, led to hundreds of flight cancellations and generally disrupted routines that had already been altered by the pandemic. It has also brought further evidence that Mount Washington in New Hampshire is a contender for the title “home of the world’s worst weather.”

At the 6,288-foot mountain’s summit, it felt like 18 degrees below zero on Monday night, with wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. On Tuesday, the wind chill may make it feel like an even-frostier 17 below zero.

As many as a quarter of a million people visit Mount Washington every summer. The sky is blue, the grass is green and the views are spectacular.

By winter, though, the mountain becomes an “arctic island,” according to Rebecca Scholand, a manager at the Mount Washington Observatory. Sophisticated weather equipment is stored in a concrete structure built into the side of the mountain, which can give meteorologists who stay there an unsettling feeling. “If you’ve ever watched ‘The Shining,’ it hits a little too close to home on the summit,” she said in a November interview.

For the next few days, only a few inches of snow are expected to accumulate, under a cloudy sky and ferocious winds. The temperature may bob from a few degrees above zero during the day to a few degrees below at night. By Saturday, officials said, it may reach “a high near 17.”

Cars covered in snow in Queens on Monday, a day not conducive to campaigning or early voting in a special election for a City Council seat.
Credit…Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

For weeks, eight people have campaigned for a City Council seat in eastern Queens amid several obstacles: the coronavirus pandemic, unfamiliar ranked-choice voting, and attack ads aimed at a progressive candidate.

Then came the snow. Lots of it.

On Monday, when the storm brought more than 16 inches of snow to Central Park, at least four candidates unsuccessfully called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to postpone Tuesday’s special election. They are battling for a seat that was vacated in early November when Rory Lancman left to join Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration.

Deepti Sharma, a small-business owner in the race, focused on making the best of it, even if the scene outside her home, by 155th Street and Horace Harding Expressway, was not promising.

“Streets aren’t completely plowed,” she said on Monday evening. “The sidewalks are barely, barely shoveled, because snow is still coming and there’s wind blowing.” Her campaign had scrapped plans to hand out literature to shoppers at local supermarkets. “We’re spending a whole day calling people, letting them know that the election is still on,” she said.

At about 5:30 p.m., Mr. de Blasio tweeted that Tuesday’s election would continue.

Sanitation plows “are making extra rounds near polling sites,” wrote the mayor, who earlier declared a state of emergency for the city and asked people to restrict nonessential travel.

Several candidates wanted the election to be postponed. There had been three early voting sites — at York College, Queens College and Queensboro Hall — but in a district with limited mass transit, other voters were waiting for Tuesday.

“I don’t want someone endangering themselves to come out in a foot of snow to cast a vote,” one candidate, Soma Syed, a lawyer and small-business owner, said in a statement.

Another candidate, Dilip Nath, who has worked in health care technology, said that holding the election would be a “disenfranchisement of voters that are not able-bodied and voters that do not have a reliable method of transportation.”

Two other candidates, Dr. Neeta Jain, a psychologist, and Mujib U. Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Society of North America, signed on to Ms. Syed’s statement.

“Turnout will be very very low if we go through,” Dr. Jain said in a brief interview. A little more than 5,500 people submitted ballots during nine days of early voting, which ended Sunday, according to figures from the New York City Board of Elections.

Other candidates had urged for the election to continue. Moumita Ahmed, a progressive activist who was the target of the attack ads, wrote on Twitter, “Working-class immigrant families in Queens have endured far, far worse than this snowstorm throughout this pandemic.” James F. Gennaro, a former City Council member, tweeted on Monday for residents to “BEAT THE SNOW AND VOTE NOW!”

Also running for Mr. Lancman’s seat is Michael Earl Brown, who could not be reached on Monday.

The winner of Tuesday’s election will hold on to the seat only until Dec. 31. There will be a primary in June and a general election in November for a full four-year term.

Children sledding in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on Monday. Public school students in the city were expected to be on their screens, not sleds.
Credit…Mark Makela for The New York Times

As a major winter storm buried much of the Northeast in snow Monday and into Tuesday, many students missed out on one of the great joys of winter: the snow day.

Instead, major school districts pressed ahead with online instruction, expecting their students to log on from home as the snow piled up outside.

Replacing snow days with remote learning is a bonus for school districts trying to make up for the days of instruction already lost to the coronavirus, but a loss to families who think a snow day is just the kind of pre-pandemic treat children need.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has called snow days a “thing of the past.” So despite the declaration of a state of emergency on Monday, students in New York City public schools were expected to log on as usual.

That was the case for most major cities in the storm’s path: public school students in Washington, Philadelphia, Providence, R.I., and Boston were all expected to show up for class online, though in Boston their days were cut slightly shorter.

Some students, however, did get to play in the snow. The Archdiocese of New York canceled classes for all of its Catholic elementary schools, and said it will make up for the loss of instruction later in the year. A snow day in the traditional sense, Superintendent Michael J. Deegan said, gives an opportunity for “children to be children.”

“There is something undeniably therapeutic about spending time with family while the snow falls,” he said in a statement. “We are happy to know our teachers are enjoying time with their families as well.”

In Delaware, the Christina School District also canceled classes, telling families in an announcement to “heat up the hot chocolate, pull out the snow boots and get ready for an exciting escape from school work.”

Pandas in the snow at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington in 2015.
Credit…Gary Cameron/Reuters

Yes, the heavy snow across the Northeast is causing plenty of problems, but it is also responsible for the following video of pandas sliding and rolling in the snow.

In the spirit of that footage, shared by the National Zoo in Washington on Sunday, here are a few other ways of making the most of the winter weather.

Some people took the opportunity to build snowmen — masked, of course.

And with some roads covered in snow, one woman strapped on her skis and took to the streets of Manhattan.

Last week, the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter account shared news that a snowy owl had been spotted in the middle of Central Park’s North Meadow ball fields — the first recorded sighting since 1890. The owl had not been seen on Monday, but birders still kept tabs on these sledders flying down a hill and some mallards trudging through the ice.

National Guard members on duty on Sunday at the U.S. Capitol, which is now protected by fencing.
Credit…Cheriss May/Reuters

As inches of snow piled up during Washington’s biggest winter storm in two years, there was one place without any snowball fights.

The Capitol grounds, one of the best spots in the city for sledding, are now off limits, another reverberation of the rampage there on Jan. 6.

Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House delegate, had urged the Capitol Police to allow the tradition to continue. The activity could be done safely, Ms. Norton said in a statement on Saturday, “by allowing only children and adults accompanied by children” into the area.

But a Capitol Police spokeswoman, Eva Malecki, citing the current security concerns and the city’s coronavirus restrictions, said it could not be permitted. “We, however, look forward to welcoming sledders back in the future,” she said in a statement.

While a rule against sledding on the Capitol grounds has been in place for decades, it was rarely enforced until after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Ms. Norton has pushed for sledding to be allowed on the grounds for years, routinely adding a provision to the annual federal spending bill to “forbear enforcement” of the ban mentioned on Page 175 of the Capitol Police regulations. She first succeeded in slipping the pro-sledding provision into the omnibus spending bill in 2016. (“Go for it!” she told the city’s residents after the ban was lifted that year.)

The previous year, Washingtonians held a “snow-in” at the complex to protest the rule.

The ban has been revived at another moment of heightened tensions. Instead of children making snowmen and snow angels, visitors to the Capitol complex these days are greeted by seven-foot-tall, unscalable fencing that went up after the riot.

A snow-covered beach chair served as a “space saver” in South Boston in 2014.
Credit…Katherine Taylor for The New York Times

Spend enough winters in Boston and you will develop a strong opinion on “space savers,” the strangely aggressive tradition of reserving a parking space on a public street during a blizzard by shoveling it out and marking it with an odd bit of furniture or an orange cone — or nearly anything else that might discourage another driver from shoehorning in a Subaru.

Pro: You did the hard work of creating the space by shoveling it out. You earned it!

Con: It’s a public street! If you’re not parking there, someone else deserves to.

New England was braced for a big winter storm on Monday, and the mere anticipation appeared to have prompted a variation on the theme: pre-emptive space savers.

Before the snow had even begun to fall, you could spot them in Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood where parking can be scarce. On one street, a dining room chair and what appeared to be the lining from the back of a pickup truck were spotted on the still-dry asphalt. Elsewhere in the city: pushback, in the form of disgruntled anti-space-saver notes attached to space savers.

Matt O’Malley, a city councilor, broached this delicate topic before Christmas: “This may be unpopular to say,” he ventured in a tweet that inspired a column in The Boston Globe, “but it’s high time we stop using space savers, Boston.”

Suffice it to say, his idea hasn’t completely taken hold.


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Winter storm warnings were in place for much of the Eastern United States, with some areas expecting as much as two feet of snow through Tuesday.CreditCredit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Blizzard is a colloquialism that is often used when there is a significant winter storm. But certain conditions must be met for a storm to qualify as a blizzard; the distinction is not based solely on snowfall.

The National Weather Service’s website described Monday’s winter storm, which dropped more than two inches of snow an hour in some areas, as a “powerful nor’easter.”

A nor’easter is a broad term used for storms that move along the Eastern Seaboard with winds that are typically from the northeast and that blow over coastal areas. The agency defines a blizzard as a storm that has sustained wind gusts that exceed 35 miles per hour for at least three hours, along with blowing snow limiting visibility to less than a quarter-mile.

This week’s storm developed when an area of low pressure over the Ohio Valley, which brought snow to the Lower Great Lakes and northern Mid-Atlantic, passed the baton to a nor’easter forming off the East Coast, the Weather Service said.

Such storms have always been a part of winter in the Northeast. But there is evidence that a warming world is influencing the severity of winter storms even as it is making winters somewhat milder over all.

Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, pointed to the Arctic, which is warming much faster than the rest of the planet, and the phenomena of the disrupted polar vortex, which can be triggered by blasts of sudden warming in the stratosphere.

Together, the two kinds of warming are a potent combination, he said: “The general warming of the Arctic, that’s kind of like the gasoline. When you get the polar vortex, that’s the match.”

Punxsutawney Phil last year during the 134th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa.
Credit…Barry Reeger/Associated Press

This Groundhog Day will not be at all like the others.

As far back as 1900, The New York Times was already referring to this annual “hoary superstition” as a tradition.

Like clockwork, the event draws the curious and worldwide attention. Will a portly groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow? The feeling that this may never change was accelerated by a popular 1993 movie starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who is “inexplicably living the same day over and over again” as he covered the annual festivity in Punxsutawney, a bucolic borough in western Pennsylvania about 300 miles west of Midtown Manhattan.

Change does not come easy to this part of the world. Until, that was, the coronavirus pandemic.

The event will proceed on Tuesday in Punxsatawney, but it will be held virtually. The organizers of the event, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, said in a recorded message that “No in-person attendance or guests will be allowed on the ground.”

As for the massive snowstorm burying parts of the Northeast, organizers are, for now, forging ahead. Gobbler’s Knob, the groundhog’s home turf, will be closed on Monday at 5 p.m. but will reopen on Tuesday by 9 a.m. The livestream will begin that day at 6:30 a.m.

That dispatch was, itself, a hybrid of modernity and antiquity. It was posted on Instagram. But the words were printed on a sign, held by a man.

A bicyclist rode near the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on Monday night.
Credit…Mark Makela for The New York Times

Winter storms typically leave office-bound companies in a scramble with workers unable to get to work. This year brings a new twist: The coronavirus pandemic has prepared more people than ever to work from home.

Now, for those who have been working from home for months, a snow day is just another day. The logistics have already been sorted out, making it easier for employers to weather the storm.

In previous years, more workers may have been required to take a treacherous drive into the office, which could be stressful at best and life-threatening at worst. If workers stayed home, they may not have had the technology or the communication systems set up to efficiently continue their tasks.

“A lot of people are going to realize remote work is a little more seamless in these types of events, whereas historically it would have been a bigger deal,” said Sara Sutton, the chief executive of FlexJobs, a job board for remote workers.

But the move to remote work also brings a new risk: Workers cannot do much if the power goes out. Office buildings and other professional environments often have backup generators to guard against power outages, but many homes and apartment buildings do not.

Ms. Sutton suggested having a backup plan ready to stay connected through power outages. It could include going to a friend’s house where there is still power, or having multiple ways available to get online.

Many phones allow users to create a hot spot that can connect a computer to the internet. But beware: It will chew through phone data quickly. Mobile hot spots are another option.

Among people whose jobs can be done from home, 71 percent said they were working from home all or most of the time, according to a Pew Research Center survey from December.

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