BOSTON >> Residents and officials across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. were bracing for a powerful winter storm expected to produce blizzard conditions today and Saturday.
Heavy snow and strong winds were forecasted to begin in parts of the Carolinas and Appalachia on this evening, according to the National Weather Service.
The system will then intensify as a nor’easter and bring snowy conditions up the East Coast to New England, where forecasters warned of localized snowfall totals of up to 20 inches and wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph.
Local officials today rushed to declare snow emergencies and impose parking bans, warning that wind-blown snow could make travel nearly impossible and colder temperatures could mean dangerous wind chills after the storm passes Saturday night.
In Virginia, where a blizzard earlier this month stranded hundreds of motorists along a major interstate highway for hours, Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency and said officials have already begun to position its resources in anticipation of downed trees, electrical outages and major impacts to travel.
The state’s Eastern Shore faced possible blizzard conditions that could bring winds as high as 50 mph, up to a foot of heavy and wet snow and possibly tidal flooding.
“The key message for all Virginians is to stay aware of the weather conditions and to stay off the roads if possible,” the governor said.
Similar snowfall projections were expected up the coast to the Philadelphia and New York City areas, with seaside communities from the Jersey Shore to suburban Long Island and southeastern Connecticut potentially seeing heavier snowfall rates and stronger winds.
In Ocean City, New Jersey, Mayor Jay Gillian pre-emptively addressed an enduring peeve of snowbound homeowners: plow trucks burying driveways that residents had just dug out of.
“The plows cannot work without creating snow banks,” he dryly reminded in a post on the city’s website. “You may have to clear your driveway or parked vehicle more than once.”
Airlines braced for the highest single-day total of cancellations in three weeks. By midday today, airlines had canceled more than 1,000 flights in the U.S., and they had already scrubbed about 2,500 scheduled for Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware. The hardest-hit airports included those in Chicago, the New York City area and Boston.
In New England, where isolated snow bands could dump nearly 3 feet (1 meter) in spots, the inevitable, shelf-clearing rush for bread, eggs, milk and other vittles at grocery stores was well underway today.
Merrick McCormack, 51, of Cranston, Rhode Island, was among hundreds who packed a Shaw’s Supermarket in neighboring Warwick for last-minute items.
With the entire state under a blizzard warning, state officials mobilized more than 500 snow plows and Gov. Daniel McKee scrubbed a planned trip to Washington, D.C.
“I don’t fuss with storms. I know in a couple of days, we’re going to be free and clear. No need to panic,” McCormack said, flashing some New England stoicism as he unloaded his groceries.
Regional supermarket giant Stop & Shop pleaded with customers to practice restraint, warning that staffing and supply woes caused by the global pandemic will mean barer shelves and longer checkout lines.
“We ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” the Quincy, Massachusetts-based grocery chain said in a statement. “Supply chain and labor challenges as a result of COVID-19 have made product availability more challenging than usual.”
At Maine Hardware in Portland, a steady stream of customers stocked up on storm essentials today as officials took the rare step of issuing a blizzard warning.
Rick Tucker, the store’s president, said people were buying up generators, snowblowers, shovels, ice melt, sand, heaters, batteries and lanterns.
“It sounds like it’s going to be a big one,” he said. “We haven’t had one of those for a while. It’s going to be fun.”