NEW YORK (AFP) — Blinding snow whipped up by powerful winds pummeled the eastern United States on Saturday, as one of the strongest winter storms in years triggered severe weather alerts, transportation chaos and power outages across a region of some 70 million people.
With multiple blizzard warnings in effect, cities like New York and Boston bore the brunt of the storm, which the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed Saturday had intensified into a “bomb cyclone” — characterized by the explosive power of rapid drops in atmospheric pressure.
Coastal areas were expected to receive more than one foot (30 centimeters) of snow by the end of the day, and as much as three feet in parts of Massachusetts, where more than 119,000 homes were reported without power.
Cold weather alerts were raised as far south as Florida, where the NWS warned of “scattered to isolated falling iguanas from trees” as plunging temperatures temporarily paralyzed the large lizards, which can weigh up to 20 pounds (nine kilograms).
Residents in towns and cities across the eastern seaboard were urged to avoid all unnecessary travel in the whiteout conditions. In Long Island, officials said a woman had been found dead in her car by a snowplow operator.
Ten inches (25 centimeters) of snow had already accumulated on the island north of Manhattan, and regional train lines were partially shut down.
Salt machines and snowplows crawled along the streets of New York City, where city residents awoke Saturday to more than four inches of snow.
Mayor Eric Adams posted videos of himself visiting different boroughs throughout the day, urging his fellow New Yorkers to stay at home. In an interview with local radio station WINS, he insisted the city was handling the storm “like a well-oiled machine,” adding, “No street has not been touched.”
In Times Square, the famous neon billboards formed glowing halos in the snowy air. But the frigid temperatures didn’t stop Robert Burck, a Times Square fixture known as the “Naked Cowboy.”
Wearing only his underwear, a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, he strolled through the nearly empty tourist hotspot, strumming his guitar.
“It’s fantastic,” one undaunted tourist, Gonzalo Vazquez of Spain, told AFP in Times Square. “It’s like skiing, surrounded by lights and awesome LED screens.”
In the trendy Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, the sidewalks were almost deserted and many businesses were closed. But the few who did brave the elements smiled as they wished each other, “Happy snow day!”
A state of emergency has been declared for New York and the neighboring state of New Jersey.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul asked state residents to stay home if possible. “The most dangerous phase of the storm is now,” she said in a midday statement, “so please continue to avoid any unnecessary travel.”
For people who had to travel, she urged them to fill their car gas tanks and keep supplies such as ice scrapers, blankets and water in their vehicles.
Getting ‘quite ugly’
In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu declared a snow emergency. “It is going to get quite ugly out there,” she said in an early morning television interview from City Hall.
“This is going to be a historic storm.”
Massachusetts residents had rushed Friday to buy groceries, as well as snow- and ice-melting pellets to help keep their sidewalks and driveways clear.
By early Saturday morning, Boston Public Works said 500 snowplows were already hard at work on the city streets.
Plow driver Mark Burns, working in Boston’s South Shore area, said he was seeing up to three inches fall in an hour. “It’s getting heavy,” he said. “It was supposed to be light and fluffy, but it’s a little wet now.”
The NWS said wind gusts would reach up to 60 miles (96 kilometers) per hour. It forecast extremely cold temperatures with dangerous wind chills Saturday night into Sunday morning.
The snowfall rate would range from two to four inches per hour, it said, and strong winds would cause “scattered power outages.”
“Expect whiteout conditions and nearly impossible travel at times,” the service said.
More than 3,500 flights were canceled for Saturday traveling within, into, or out of the United States, according to flight tracker FlightAware, and just over 1,000 flights have already been canceled for Sunday.
Cancelations on Friday totaled more than 1,450.
The blizzard comes on the heels of a similar winter storm that blanketed a swath of eastern North America — from Georgia to Canada — just two weeks ago, cutting power to thousands of homes and also disrupting thousands of flights.