US air authorities grounded thousands of flights Thursday as heavy snow, stiff winds and punishing cold pushed into the northeast of the country, forcing the governors of New York and New Jersey to declare a state of emergency.
The storm brought dangerously low temperatures and strong winds across the region, with parts of New England bracing for as much as 14 inches (36 cm) of snow by Friday morning.
“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.
Some 1,800 US flights were canceled in advance and around 4,500 delayed, with Chicago's O'Hare International and Newark's Liberty International Airport the worst-affected airports, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks air travel.
New York's three major airports were preparing to accommodate stranded travellers whose flights were canceled.
"We have a few hundred cots at each of the airports should you decide to become an overnight guest," said Thomas Bosco, an official with the Port Authority of New York and Jersey, at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The authority also runs Newark and John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie both ordered state offices closed on Friday for non-essential employees, saying they expected the worst to hit between late Thursday and early Friday morning.
"We'll have heavy snow, windy conditions, reduced visibilities," said Kim Buttrick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts.
Test for New York's new mayor
The storm posed the first major challenge to the administration of New York's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, just a day after his inauguration. Problems caused by snowstorms have played political havoc for mayors in the country's biggest city for decades.
After his first emergency management meeting, de Blasio urged New Yorkers to get off the streets as soon as possible and let snow crews do their work.
“We have to get it right, no question about it,” he said. "This is the first of many times I will say please stay indoors. Stay out of your cars. If you don't need to go out, please don't go out," he said.
“We are focused like a laser on protecting this city and getting everyone ready. We have all hands on deck.”
The weather service said the mass of Arctic air and would see temperatures plummet to abnormally low levels, with record lows possible on Friday.
Forecast snowfall varied widely, with Washington expected to see under an inch (2 cm), Philadelphia and New York 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm), Hartford 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm) and Boston 8 to 14 inches (20-36 cm).
Even before the worst of the storm hit, slippery road conditions made driving a hazard in many storm-hit areas. Cities mobilised ploughs and salt spreaders. Some major highways were ordered shut down overnight.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-03