May 24, 2013
Blizzard begins to wallop northeastern US, flights cancelled
A blizzard blew into the northeastern United States today, cutting short the workweek for millions who feared being stranded as state officials ordered roads closed ahead of what forecasters said could be record-setting snowfall.
Authorities scrambled to prepare for the storm, which had already resulted in a massive traffic pile-up in southern Maine and prompted organizers of the nation's sledding championship in Maine to postpone a race scheduled for Saturday, fearing too much snow for the competition.
From New York to Maine, the storm began gently, dropping a light dusting of snow, but officials urged residents to stay home, rather than risk getting stuck in deep drifts when the storm kicks up later.
Even in its early stages, the storm created some panic. Drivers lined up at gas stations to top off their tanks, grocery stores were swamped as shoppers stocked up on bread and milk, and travelers were forced to confront flight delays and cancellations.
"The rate of snowfall and reduced visibility during the evening rush hour in particular will make safe travel nearly impossible," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told reporters.
The early edge of the storm led to a 19-vehicle pile-up in southern Maine, snarling traffic on a major interstate highway north of Portland. No major injuries were reported. A smaller accident briefly closed an interstate near Bolton, Vermont.
"It was close to whiteout conditions, it's sort of a precursor of what's coming later," said Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine State Police.
Officials across the region closed schools and more than 3,000 flights were canceled. Several thousand customers lost power in New Jersey and points south, though officials warned the number was likely to rise as the snowfall got heavier and winds picked up.
Governors and mayors ordered nonessential government workers to stay home, urged private employers to do the same, told people to prepare for power outages and encouraged them to check on elderly or disabled neighbors.
A wide swath of New England, including northeastern Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, and the Boston area, will likely see 24 inches to 30 inches (60 centimeters to 76 centimeters) of snow, with some areas seeing more than three feet (one meter) by the time the storm ends tomorrow morning.