A fast-moving winter storm barreled through the Mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast on Wednesday, with snow piling up and mixing with sleet and stiff winds to create hazardous road conditions in the affected areas.
A pileup involving dozens of cars on Interstate 80 in Clinton County, Pa., resulted in two deaths, the state police said. A spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police said a 19-year-old man had died in a car crash, one of about 200 the state police had responded to by 3 p.m.
In New York City, a multicar collision on an already salted stretch of road just south of a bridge linking Manhattan to the Bronx left a half-dozen people hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.
As the night wore on, the storm, as had been forecast, was proving to be one of the biggest in New York, Philadelphia and other East Coast cities since a crippling 2016 blizzard.
“Everything that was predicted is right on track,” David Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in New York, said Wednesday evening. Central Park had gotten 2.6 inches of snow by then, the Weather Service said.
The snow had started to stick in New York City several hours earlier and was expected to come with growing intensity until around midnight, Mr. Stark said. At that point, he added, the precipitation would most likely shift to a mix of snow and sleet.
In a subsequent interview, Mr. Stark said the change from snow to sleet might happen earlier than had been anticipated and that the accumulation of snow in the city might end up on the lower end of the eight to 12 inches that had been forecast.
In Philadelphia, where snow gave way to sleet in the afternoon, there were reports of five inches in Rittenhouse Square and close to six inches at Philadelphia International Airport.
The storm, a nor’easter, hit first in Maryland, Virginia and the Washington area, with a mixture of freezing rain and snow blanketing the region. Near Frederick County, Md., dozens of cars could barely inch forward on a packed highway. In Washington, about 50 miles southeast, the snow seemed to be turning to slush.
The storm was expected to stretch nearly 1,000 miles, from North Carolina to New England, according to the National Weather Service, and threatened to fell trees, knock out power and cover roadways with ice (few outages had been reported by 9 p.m.). Western Maryland and southern central Pennsylvania were forecast to bear the brunt of the storm, with as much as two feet of snow falling in those areas.
Schools that have been holding in-person classes, including in New York City and Boston, either closed or announced plans to do so. Snow forced some coronavirus testing sites in the Baltimore area to close temporarily, and two city-sponsored mobile testing sites in Boston were also closed.
Matt Otten, the manager at Zaftigs Delicatessen, a Boston restaurant known for its Jewish comfort food, said he typically would not close because of bad weather. This time, though, he was worried. “We are concerned for our workers’ safety since the roads are going to be very treacherous,” he said.
As the storm bore down on New York, advocates for homeless people urged officials to open more of the city’s vacant hotel rooms to those who have been living on the streets.
Under its so-called Code Blue guidelines, which take effect when temperatures drop below freezing at night, the city increases its outreach efforts to try to persuade homeless people to enter shelters. Anyone who is homeless and seeks shelter is offered a bed.
But most of the beds are in dormitory-style group shelters, and many homeless people avoid such shelters for fear of theft or, in the current environment, contracting the coronavirus.
With the pandemic wiping out most of New York’s hotel business this year and the subway shut down overnight for cleaning, the city has been renting hotel rooms and using them to shelter homeless people. The approach has been credited with moving more than 600 people indoors.
The Coalition for the Homeless said the city should use its empty hotel capacity to help more people off the streets.
“The city has to have an alternative option other than shelters to offer them,” said Giselle Routhier, the coalition’s policy director. She estimated that the number of people living on the streets was at least 4,000.
The city’s Department of Homeless Services said in a statement that outreach workers would continue to “engage unsheltered New Yorkers and encourage them to accept services.”
In an ornate marble gazebo at the entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Barbara Atkins, 59, sat on a bench in the biting wind, with her head sticking through a plastic dropcloth. Ms. Atkins declined a reporter’s offer to call 311 for her and connect her to a shelter.
“I’m warm enough,” she said. “I have body warmers under my jacket, and hand warmers in my pockets, and warmers in my shoes. They last for 10 hours.”
As the first dusting of snow began to fall in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights section around 5 p.m., neighborhood residents hustled home laden with groceries and tools for contending with what the storm would leave behind.
Others took to the streets to bask in the season’s first flakes. Arpan Narayan was among those admiring the snow as it glistened in the yellow glow of nearby streetlights.
“The way I look at it, anything that brings you joy is even more special during the pandemic,” said Mr. Naryan, who was retrieving a windshield brush from his car in case he needed it later. He said he was especially happy to see snow this year after being cooped up while working from home since March.
“This is definitely a moment to stop and enjoy it,” he added.
Alex Tsang said his 4-year-old son had been so excited about the snow’s arrival that he could not sleep on Tuesday night. The two had gone for a walk in Riverside Park, and the boy had tried to scoop up enough snow for a snowball. Muffled up to his eyes, he held up a small handful as proof of his effort. Mr. Tsang reassured him that they would be back out on Thursday.
“We’ve been sheltering in place for so long,” Mr. Tsang said. “I’m thinking of taking him to the park in between remote classes.”
Mario Cancel, a Columbia University doctoral student, had also rushed outside with his 7-year-old daughter. If it was going to get colder, he said, “it might as well snow so we can have some fun.”
Even Joozer Ali, the owner of Casa Hardware and Locksmith Inc., was in an upbeat mood despite facing a long commute home to Long Island. The storm had been a “blessing” for his store, which has experienced a steep drop in sales this year.
Happily, he had been well stocked with the shovels, rock salt and plastic sleds that were suddenly in high demand.
“A snow day is always good for the hardware stores,” he said.
Hundreds of flights were canceled, rail service was suspended and driving on some busy roads was restricted as a snowstorm hit the East Coast on Wednesday and complicated holiday travel plans.
Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, urged everyone to check with their local transportation officials about travel conditions. “For those in the path of today’s winter storm, know what’s expected for your area and don’t drive in dangerous conditions,” she said.
Amtrak said on Tuesday it would operate on a modified schedule in parts of the Northeast and that it would cancel some services from Wednesday to Friday, including all Acela services for Thursday. New Jersey Transit said it would suspend bus service in New York and northern New Jersey and rail service systemwide.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subway, buses and two commuter rails, said parts of the subway system may open later than 5 a.m. on Thursday and that bus service could be curtailed because of icy or snow-filled roads. The agency has outfitted buses with tire chains and spread salt on subway platforms in preparation.
“It is going to be a tough storm,” Patrick J. Foye, chairman of the M.T.A., said. “For those who do have to travel — essential workers and others — we are going to be providing service and doing it on as safe a basis as we can, but if you can stay home please do.”
Airlines were also beginning to adjust their plans, with more than 700 flights canceled in the United States, according to FlightAware, which tracks delays and scrapped flights.
Chloe Cho, 22, said she was planning to fly from Boston to Chicago on Thursday for the holidays. But the flight’s departure was changed to Friday.
“I am not thrilled,” said Ms. Cho, who worried that people waiting in airports could be exposed to the coronavirus.
Some travelers seemed unbothered by the threat of snow, and were even flying toward it.
Ernest Imoisi, a health care consultant from Nigeria, was among the passengers on a half-empty Houston-to-Boston flight on Tuesday night. To get ready for the difference between the weather, he made a quick pit stop home.
“I had to pick up my boots” Mr. Imoisi said.
Maryland, Virginia and the Washington area were among the first places to get a taste of the winter storm careening up the East Coast on Wednesday, with flurries of snow and freezing rain descending across the region.
Forecasters predicted up to 18 inches of snow in some areas near the Blue Ridge Mountains, while elsewhere the morning snow was expected to be replaced by sleet and freezing rain. Snowfall totals could reach three inches in Washington and Baltimore and could exceed a foot further northwest, around Frederick, Md., said Chris Strong, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Erik Mueller said that the snow was pellet-like when it began falling in Washington around 10 a.m. but that the flakes gradually became clumpier. Around 2 p.m., he said, it changed to rain, and everything began to melt.
“This is pretty typical of winter precipitation in D.C.,” he said. “Never know what one is going to get, and it changes every 10 miles.”
Mr. Mueller, who moved to the city eight years ago from Jacksonville, Fla., said he enjoyed the snow and took his 13-year-old Border collie mix, Ruby, out to play in it.
Shannon Bento, of Winchester, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley, said that the snow started around 8:30 a.m. and that it became heavier throughout the day. She stocked up on essentials a few days before the storm, she said, but ventured out on Wednesday to shovel and have a snowball fight.
“We were due for a good snow,” she said.
As a powerful winter storm raced up the East Coast on Wednesday, several major cities planned to temporarily shut down coronavirus testing facilities.
In Baltimore, the city health department postponed testing at two outdoor testing sites on Wednesday and Thursday, although several sites remained open for “walk-up” testing.
“We would urge residents to remain safe while they travel to the testing site, and would encourage residents to dress warmly should they need to wait in line,” the city department said in a written statement.
Hartford HealthCare said its nine drive-through testing sites in Connecticut would be closed on Thursday, and two city-sponsored mobile testing sites in Boston will also be closed. In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo warned residents that test scheduling on the state’s online portal would be “temporarily paused” for Thursday “to ensure the safety of Rhode Islanders.” Some outdoor sites may close, and some indoor or covered sites will stay open, she said.
In Philadelphia, where the snowfall could reach up to eight inches, city testing clinics remained open on Wednesday, and officials expected that they would be open Thursday as well, said James Garrow, a spokesman for the city department of health.
He stressed “the need to call ahead to make sure that folks’ local testing site is open.”
The nor’easter threatening the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday is predicted to produce up to one foot of snow in New York City, more than the area saw all last winter.
For the 2019-20 meteorological winter, which is defined as December, January and February, 4.8 inches of snow fell in Central Park, according to the National Weather Service.
It was the city’s second-smallest snow total on record.
The unusually paltry snowfall was a sign of climate change, which leads to volatile weather patterns, said Mark Wysocki, the New York State climatologist. The past decade also featured the second-snowiest winter on record in Central Park — 61.9 inches from December 2010 to February 2011.
“In the 2000s, we’re seeing these extremes, between the driest and the wettest,” Mr. Wysocki said. “Because of the climate changing, this is what we would expect, this volatility.”
If the snow predictions for Boston of eight to 12 inches are correct, this week’s storm could produce much of last winter’s snow total. The city saw just 15.1 inches of snow last winter, well below the average of 33 inches, according to The Boston Globe.
In Philadelphia, forecasters predict the storm to produce six to eight inches of snow; last winter, the city received less than an inch of snow, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“There’s no strict definition,” said Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. “It’s sort of a loose term.”
Broadly speaking, the term characterizes a weather system in which winds just off the East Coast collide with surface winds from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States amid areas of low pressure.
Nor’easters usually occur between November and March, Mr. Otto said, but they can also form earlier in the fall and in the late spring. The storms can develop 100 miles east or west of the coastline, from as far south as Georgia to New Jersey and beyond up north, according to the Weather Service.
Their effect can be seen in the form of heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet and strong winds. Wind speeds in a nor’easter can reach hurricane force, with rainfall usually hovering around one to two inches. Snowfall can accumulate to a foot or two on average, but can be “pretty variable” over all, Mr. Otto said.
Given that nor’easters can produce dangerous conditions such as power outages, icy roads and fallen trees, Mr. Otto said it was recommended that people prepare for the storm in advance, stocking up on necessities such as batteries and extra food early, to avoid traveling during the worst of the weather.
There’s another kind of nor’easter, too.
The Nor’easter cocktail is a mix of bourbon, maple syrup, ginger beer and lime juice. Read more about it and get the recipe over at Cooking.
With a major snowstorm bearing down on New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio made official on Wednesday what had been expected: that in-person classes in the city’s public schools will be canceled on Thursday but that students are still expected to attend lessons online.
The decision affected about 190,000 of the city’s roughly one million public school students who returned to physical classrooms this month after school buildings closed briefly in November as the number of coronavirus cases began to climb.
Mr. de Blasio’s announcement was in line with moves by other U.S. school districts that are dropping the traditional snow day this year amid a shift to remote learning prompted by the pandemic and the accompanying disruption to students’ schedules.
In Philadelphia, teachers planned to continue classes virtually despite the storm. In Denver, schools moved fully online for large snowfall in late October. And officials in Omaha said last month that students would learn online regardless of snow, even beyond this year.
Some officials have suggested the change could be permanent.
But with the virus already depriving students of several other traditions, parents like Sarah Allen of Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood said they planned to call their own snow days.
“I felt like no matter what kind of learning we’re doing this year,” said Ms. Allen, who has four school-age children, “this isn’t something that needs to be taken away from kids who have already lost a lot, ranging from not being able to see friends to losing parents to Covid.”
For various reasons, officials in some areas had already been looking for ways to eliminate school cancellations because of the weather. And education experts said that keeping students in class as much as possible is especially vital this year.
“Particularly because kids have already lost so much learning time, adding to that for no good reason just seems bizarre,” said Joshua Goodman, an associate professor of education and economics at Boston University.
Not everyone agrees.
School officials in Mahwah, N.J., said in a letter to parents that winter weather offered an opportunity for “memory-making,” and that remote classes would not be held if school would otherwise be canceled.
“Snow days are chances for on-site learners and virtual learners to just be kids by playing in the snow, baking cookies, reading books and watching a good movie,” officials wrote.