Major snowstorm hits US East Coast

THE WHITE STUFF: Two people skip near the National Mall in Washington DC as snow begins to hit the US north-east.
THE WHITE STUFF: Two people skip near the National Mall in Washington DC as snow begins to hit the US north-east.

A swirling storm has clobbered parts of the mid-Atlantic and the urban Northeast in the US, dumping 30 centimetres or more of snow, grounding thousands of flights, closing government offices in the US capital and making a mess of the evening commute. 

The storm stretched 1600km between Kentucky and Massachusetts but hit especially hard along the heavily populated corridor between Philadelphia and Boston, creating perilous rides home Tuesday (local time) for millions of motorists. 

The National Weather Service said Manalapan, New Jersey, got 33 centimetres of snow and Philadelphia got 30cm. It said parts of New York City had 25cm. 

The snow came down harder and faster than many people expected. A blizzard warning was posted for parts of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod. 

Highways in the New York City metropolitan area were jammed, and blowing snow tripled or even quadrupled drive times. 

The storm was blamed for at least one death in Maryland after a car fishtailed into the path of a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered road about 80 km northwest of Baltimore. 

The storm was a conventional one that developed off the coast and moved its way up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the arctic. Unlike the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it wasn’t caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole. 

This second fierce blast of winter weather is sapping fuel supplies in many regions in the U.S. and sending prices for propane and natural gas to record highs. 

Customers who heat with natural gas or electricity probably won’t see dramatically higher prices, in part because utilities typically buy their fuel under longer-term contracts at set prices. But propane customers who find themselves suddenly needing to fill their tanks could be paying US$100 to $200 (NZ$120 to $240) more per fill-up than they did a month ago. 


About 3000 flights for Tuesday were cancelled, with airports from Washington to Boston affected. More than 1000 flights for Wednesday were called off as well. Amtrak planned to cut back passenger train service. 

The rush to get home early by many workers was evident in Philadelphia, where many commuter trains were packed. 

The storm put a damper on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s inauguration, forcing the cancellation of an evening party. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick postponed his annual State of the State address, and the Philadelphia Flyers postponed their Tuesday night ice hockey game. 

Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky stayed closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday or sent students home early.  

Federal workers in the Washington area also were given the day off.