Hercules storm bears down on US

Last updated 12:48 03/01/2014
Winter storm Hercules
Reuters

SNOW BUSINESS: A pedestrian shelters under an umbrella as snow falls in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with winter storm Hercules arriving in the northeast US.

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The governors of New York and New Jersey have declared a state of emergency and urged residents to stay indoors as a major storm hit the northeastern United States, bringing heavy snow and delaying or canceling thousands of flights.

The first major winter storm of 2014 brought dangerously low temperatures and strong winds from the lower Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic coast, with parts of New England including Boston bracing for as much as 36 cm of snow.

''As this winter storm unfolds, bringing heavy snow and high winds to many parts of the state, I strongly urge all New Yorkers to exercise caution, avoid travel and stay indoors,'' New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Amid flight cancellations that hit just as many travelers were returning from holiday breaks, officials at Boston's Logan International Airport warned that takeoffs would likely end at about 8.30pm local time and officials at New York area airports set up cots for potential stranded travellers.

The snowfall was expected to intensify after sunset, with the heaviest accumulation coming overnight. Some cities along the storm's southern edge expect only minimal snowfall.

Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie both ordered state offices closed for non-essential employees.

''The real action is going to get cranked up this evening and during the overnight hours. We'll have heavy snow, windy conditions, reduced visibilities,'' said Kim Buttrick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts.

STORM A TEST FOR MAYORS

A storm expected to bring heavy snow, stiff winds and punishing cold is pushing into the US Northeast, extending Christmas break for some students while posing the first test for New York's new mayor and perhaps the last challenge for Boston's outgoing one.

Some schools in New England and New York closed well ahead of the snow, while cities mobilised plows and salt spreaders, and state offices sent workers home early.

Major roads were ordered closed overnight. US airlines cancelled more than 2,300 flights nationwide in advance of the storm.

The heavy weather began rolling in just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation's largest city and a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.

Menino announced a parking ban and said schools would be closed Friday in Boston, where up to 36 centimeters of snow was expected. Boston's airport said it would not handle any flights after 8.30pm local time.

''What a New Year's gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor,'' said Menino, whose successor takes office Monday.

De Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticised his predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a post-Christmas storm, said hundreds of plows and salt spreaders would be on the streets as soon as the snow started.

''We have to get it right, no question about it,'' de Blasio said.

''We are focused like a laser on protecting this city and getting everyone ready. We have all hands on deck.''

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WORST YET TO COME

Snow was falling in parts of New England and New York state, but the brunt of the storm wasn't expected until later today. Forecasters said temperatures would plummet to well below freezing.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, coastal areas north and south of Boston and part of Maine as well as New York's Long Island, where up to 25 centimeters of snow could fall and winds could gust to 72kmh.

"There will be travel problems," said Hugh Johnson, a weather service meteorologist in Albany, New York. "It will be very cold."

Up to 35cm of snow is forecast for the Boston area and the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Long Island - where 20-25cm of snow could fall and winds could gust up to 72kmh.

"We're going to see a lot of snow and a lot of wind," said Jason Tuell, director of the eastern region of the National Weather Service. "We're concerned about whiteout conditions possibly tonight with the blowing and drifting snow."

The wind chill will make it feel -23 degrees Celcius or colder in some places, Tuell said.

Some schools in New England and New York closed pre-emptively or planned early dismissals, while cities issued parking bans and homeless shelters were expected to fill beyond capacity.

AAA Michigan says it received 500 calls from drivers dealing with spinouts, cars in ditches and dead batteries. Accidents and delays were also reported in Ohio and Missouri.

"Anything below 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the salt isn't nearly as effective," said Becky Allmeroth, maintenance engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation's St Louis district, where crews were mixing chemicals and beet juice with salt to try and make roads passable.

"Since the snow blows so easily and the temperatures are so cold, once it hits the roadway it freezes when it hits the surface."

In Maine, temperatures could plummet below zero in the mountains over the weeked, meteorologist John Cannon said. It's so cold that the Smiling Hill Farm cross-country ski area closed for the day.

Authorities said the weather may have been a factor in a fatal crash involving a pickup and a bus carrying casino patrons in Indiana. Police said the truck's driver was killed and 15 bus passengers were injured in the collision on a snow-covered and slushy highway in Rolling Prairie.

An early morning dusting of snow gave some New York residents an idea of what was to come later as the storm headed toward the city.

"I guess it's kind of a preview," said Helmut Kugler, 54, as he gassed up his car at a Mobil station in the Bronx. "It's not snowing now, but they say it's coming hard."

The forecast was for up to eight inches in the city by tomorrow. The weather service issued a winter storm warning for New York and its northern suburbs.

Although lesser amounts of snow were forecast to the south, Philadelphia and parts of southern New Jersey were expected to see 7 to 17cm of blowing, drifting snow.

In Toms River, New Jersey, Jonas Caldwell said he was prepared for whatever the storm might bring

"Santa brought me a snow blower, and I've got rock salt for the ice, so now I'm just waiting for the storm," he said while grabbing a coffee at a convenience store.

Caldwell, an investment adviser, said he could work from home if necessary, but he was hoping that wouldn't be the case.

"There are too many distractions at home," he said. "But I won't be stupid ... If it gets as bad as they say it will be, or looks like it will, I'll be staying put."

In Hartford, Hal Guy, of nearby Glastonbury, was shopping for snow shovels - three, to be exact.

"We broke a couple in the last storm," he said. "We have four kids, so, three shovels, and we still have a little one back home."

Guy said three of his kids, girls ages 8, 10 and 12, have been out of school for two weeks for the holidays and hope to get a couple more days off with the snow.

Over in Maine, where some communities are still recovering from a recent ice storm that cut power to more than 100,000 customers, people seemed prepared for more winter weather.

Kelly St Denis, of Auburn, went skiing yesterday at the Sunday River ski area with family and friends. She said it's been cold but the skiing has been good.

"Hey, it's winter in Maine," she said. "We go with it."

- AP

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