Blizzard slams US north-east, causes air travel havoc

The first widespread blizzard of the season slammed the north-eastern United States on the heavily travelled Christmas weekend on Sunday, canceling more than 1 500 flights, shutting the Amtrak passenger rail and challenging motorists on icy roads.

The Atlantic storm unleashed powerful winds as it moved up the coast, dumping 30cm of sideways-blowing snow on some areas with more expected up to the morning commute on Monday. Massachusetts and Maine declared states of emergency with only essential workers asked to work in Boston.

New York area airports including JFK International were closed on Sunday evening but were expected to reopen early on Monday as the brunt of the storm moved north.

On one of the busiest travel days of the year, the US National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings along the coast from Maine down to New Jersey with winter storm warnings in effect for nearly the entire East Coast.

The air travel nightmare was made worse when Amtrak cancelled passenger rail service between New York and Boston.

Delta Air Lines canceled 850 flights, about one-sixth of its schedule, and American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Continental Airlines cancelled roughly 265 flights each and United Airlines 110, airline representatives said.

In one sign of the severity of the storm, an NFL football game scheduled for Philadelphia was postponed, forcing the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings to reschedule their game for Tuesday.

The sport loves to glorify great games in snow, but public safety became an issue with the weather service forecasting 38cm to 64cm of snowfall in many areas.

Officials warned travellers to stay off the roads. “The roads are slippery and the visibility is poor,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told New York’s Channel 2.

After the southern United States was hit with a rare “White Christmas” on Saturday, the snowstorms plowed to the northeast, where the major coastal cities were engulfed in blowing snow.

Traffic moved slowly on the region’s highways, though New York-area bridges and tunnels remained open and in good order, a spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.
Some bridges had reduced speed limits imposed.

New York’s in the bull’s eye
The blizzard had been expected, allowing cities time to crank out the salt and snow plows. About 2 400 New York City sanitation workers were called in to clear snow from the streets, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

“Unfortunately our city is directly in the path,” Bloomberg told a news conference, saying gale force winds of up to 88km/h were expected.

“New York is a city that doesn’t sleep,” said New York Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty told NY1 television.

“It’s a very busy city, Monday morning people will be looking to get about, but thank goodness there’s no school tomorrow,” during winter school holidays, he said.

The forewarning gave shoppers a chance to stock up on milk, bread, firewood and snow removal necessities such as shovels and ice melt.

Most of American’s cancellations were for flights after mid-afternoon on Sunday, and the airline said it hoped to be up and running again by mid-morning on Monday.

JetBlue normally schedules about 750 flights daily in the north-east. A spokesperson said passengers ticketed for flights until Tuesday would be allowed to rebook any time through January 14 without penalties.

Continental’s cancellations chiefly affected its hub operations at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, which was shut down on Sunday night, WINS radio reported.

Brittney Friend (19) told the New York Post she was unable to reach her destination in Chicago.

“We’ve been jumping through hoops all day and now we have no place to stay. They won’t accommodate us with a hotel,” she said. “It’s so ironic. I wanted a White Christmas this year and here it is the day after. Too much snow came too late.” - Reuters

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