Mega blizzard aims at US Northeast

by Sebastian Smith, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 08 2013 10:54 PM | Updated as of Feb 09 2013 08:09 PM

NEW YORK - A major snowstorm bore down on the northeastern United States Friday, with heavy snow, blizzard conditions and freezing temperatures forecast from New York through Maine as well as densely populated inland areas.

The National Weather Service predicted a "major winter storm" for Friday into Saturday and said New York City was in for blizzard conditions, including sustained strong winds and snowfall.

"Two weather systems from the polar and subtropical jet streams will combine to produce a major and potentially historic winter storm," the NWS said.

The storm comes a little over three months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area of New York City and New Jersey, killing 132 people and causing damages estimated at over $71.4 billion.

The latest storm was expected to pound Boston particularly hard, but forecasters said the system should blow through on Saturday, with milder temperatures to follow.

"The storm should reach its peak intensity early Saturday morning just east of Cape Cod," the weather service said, forecasting between one and two feet (30 to 60 centimeters) of snow across the region.

Strong winds of 25-35 miles (40-56 kilometers) per hour, with hurricane-strength gusts of up to 75 miles per hour, were expected, creating deep drifts.

Forecasters said New York would see accumulations of more than a foot of snow, while Boston, where schools were ordered closed, was due to be buried under as much as two feet, with far more in the drifts.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said city schools would remain open, but the famous Staten Island ferry would operate on a reduced schedule, and residents were advised to prepare for the worse.

"Due to potential power outages and transportation difficulties, New Yorkers are advised to stock up on potential supplies, including medicine," Bloomberg said.

Authorities in New York and neighboring New Jersey were summoning extra personnel and readying snow removal equipment. They said they had concentrated more than 200 pieces of snow and ice removal equipment in key area airports such as JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International.

Roughly 900 flights were canceled and thousands more were delayed even though the worst weather was not expected until Friday.

The weather front has already hit Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where snow and ice delayed flights on Thursday afternoon. More than 80 flights scheduled to depart from that airport were canceled, said

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino ordered non-essential city employees to stay home and put into effect a parking ban.

"This is going to be a very serious storm," the mayor said in a statement.

The Friday commute and air travel in the region were expected to see snarl-ups, while wet, freezing snow on power lines was likely to knock out electricity in some areas.

"Many people could be caught off guard Friday evening," commercial weather service AccuWeather said, warning of "potentially dangerous" conditions.

"Strong winds will not only cause whiteout conditions and massive drifts, but also coastal flooding and power outages. Gusts can approach hurricane force in coastal areas."

People old enough to remember are already comparing the coming storm to the ferocious Blizzard of 1978, which killed 100 people, pummelling Boston with more than 27 inches (68 centimeters) of snow and Providence, Rhode Island with nearly 28 inches (71 centimeters).

During that storm, people were forced to abandon cars stuck on highways and made their way around Boston on cross country skis and snowshoes.