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Blizzard hits East Coast with deep snow, winds, flooding

Boston tied its record for biggest single-day snowfall, with 23.6 inches, the National Weather Service said.

BOSTON — A nor'easter with hurricane-force wind gusts battered much of the East Coast on Saturday, flinging heavy snow that made travel treacherous or impossible, flooding coastlines, and threatening to leave bitter cold in its wake.

The storm thrashed parts of 10 states, with blizzard warnings that stretched from Virginia to Maine. Philadelphia and New York saw plenty of wind and snow, but Boston was in the crosshairs. The city tied its record for biggest single-day snowfall, with 23.6 inches, the National Weather Service said.

Winds gusted as high as 83 mph on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Southwest of Boston, the town of Sharon, Massachusetts, had received more than 30 inches  of snow by Saturday night, while Islip, New York, and Warren, Rhode Island, both saw more than 24 inches.

The wind scoured the ground bare in some spots and piled the snow into huge drifts in others.

Forecasters watched closely for new snowfall records, especially in Boston. The Boston area's modern snowfall record for a winter storm is 27.6 inches, set in 2003.

New York City and Philadelphia were far from setting all-time records but still saw significant snowfall, with at least 7.5 inches in New York's Central Park and at the Philadelphia airport.

Many flights at airports serving New York, Boston and Philadelphia were canceled Saturday, according to FlightAware. More than 4,500 flights were canceled across the U.S., though airports in the Northeast didn't report evidence of mass strandings, given that the storm was anticipated and many airlines called off flights in advance.

Amtrak canceled all its high-speed Acela trains on the busy Boston-to-Washington corridor and canceled or limited other service.

In Boston, Dominic Torre was out driving his snow dump truck since the storm began overnight, picking up loads of plowed snow from the streets of and dumping it in unused parking lots known as “snow farms.” It was about time for such a big storm, he said.

“You know, we were overdue,” he said. “It’s pretty hairy, you know, a lot of snow. A lot of snow, a lot of trips, a lot of loads. And it ain’t over yet. It ain’t done yet.”

Videos on social media showed wind and waves battering North Weymouth, south of Boston, flooding streets with a slurry of frigid water. Other videos showed a street underwater on Nantucket and waves crashing against the windows of a building in Plymouth.

Over 120,000 homes and businesses lost power in Massachusetts, with failures mounting. No other states reported widespread outages.

Credit: AP
A man walks in the snow covered street in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. A powerful nor’easter is sweeping up the U.S. East Coast and threatening to bury parts of 10 states under deep snow accompanied by coastal flooding and high winds. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Climate change, particularly the warming ocean, probably influenced the strength of the storm, atmospheric researchers said.

Much warmer ocean waters “are certainly playing a role in the strengthening of the storm system and increased moisture available for the storm,” said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado. “But it isn’t the only thing.”

The storm had two saving graces: Dry snow less capable of snapping trees and tearing down power lines, and its timing on a weekend, when schools were closed and few people were commuting.

Parts of 10 states were under blizzard warnings at some point: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, along with much of the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

The National Weather Service considers a storm a blizzard if it has snowfall or blowing snow, as well as winds of at least 35 mph that reduce visibility to a quarter-mile or less for at least three hours. In many areas, Saturday's storm met those criteria.

Rhode Island, all of which was under a blizzard warning, banned all nonemergency road travel.

In West Hartford, Connecticut, a tractor-trailer jackknifed on Interstate 84, closing several lanes. Massachusetts banned heavy trucks from interstate highways.

Ocean City, Maryland, recorded at least a foot of snow. Maryland State Police tweeted that troopers had received more than 670 calls for service and responded to over 90 crashes by midmorning.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul advised people to stay home and warned of below-zero windchills after the storm passes. The state had declared a state of emergency Friday evening.

“This is a very serious storm, very serious. We’ve been preparing for this. This could be life-threatening,” Hochul said. “It’s high winds, heavy snow, blizzard conditions — all the elements of a classic nor’easter.”

Police on Long Island said they had to help motorists stuck in the snow, and an elderly man shoveling snow died after falling into a swimming pool. In Philadelphia, few drivers ventured onto streets covered in knee-high drifts.

Hardy New Englanders took the storm in stride.

Dave McGillivray, race director for the Boston Marathon, jokingly invited the public to his suburban Boston home on Saturday for a free snow-shoveling clinic.

“I will provide the driveway and multiple walkways to ensure your training is conducted in the most lifelike situation,” he said.

Washington and Baltimore got some snow but were largely spared. The worst of the nor'easter was expected to blow by Sunday morning into Canada, where several provinces were under warnings.

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Catalini reported from Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Rodrique Ngowi in Boston; David Collins in Hartford, Connecticut; Jeff McMillan in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; and Ron Todt in Philadelphia.