The first major winter storm of 2021 blasted New York City and other parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Monday, snarling transportation, shutting down coronavirus vaccination sites and threatening the biggest storm surge since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
New Yorkers are being urged to stay home unless they are essential workers.
“I want New Yorkers to hear me loud and clear — stay home and off the roads,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in declaring a state of emergency for 44 counties.
Many areas got more than 12 inches of snow. Portions of northern New Jersey have received over two feet of snow. The highest total was 30 inches in Mendham, New Jersey, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service Eastern Region.
In addition to New Jersey, over a foot of snow has been observed at reporting stations in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Central Park reported 15.3 inches of snow, the National Weather Service said. Five other weather service climate stations in the New York area — JFK, LaGuardia, Islip, Newark and Bridgeport airports — each had record totals of snow as of 4 p.m.
CNN meteorologists say it’s possible around 2 feet of snow will blanket the city before the storm passes.
About 19 inches had fallen in one neighborhood in the borough of the Bronx.
“The storm is still developing. It’s still intensifying. It’s a massive storm,” CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said. The storm may not let up until Wednesday morning.
“Make no mistake: this storm will bring heavy snowfall, and it will make travel dangerous in every neighborhood in our city,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “New Yorkers should stay home, keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles, and let our plows work to keep us all safe.”
Covid-19 vaccination sites in the state were closed Monday because of the storm. Mass vaccination sites at SUNY Stony Brook, Jones Beach, Aqueduct Racetrack, the Javits Center and the Westchester County Center will all be closed Tuesday, officials said.
De Blasio said appointments can be rescheduled, and NYC will be able to catch up “quickly.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, closing all state offices and the New Jersey Transit system. Offices and six large coronavirus vaccine sites will be closed Tuesday.
“This is a big one and it’s going to be with us at this point, we think, until tomorrow night,” Murphy said during a Monday news conference. “The worst is yet to come.”
More than 1,300 flights across the United States were preemptively canceled ahead of the nor’easter and, by Monday night, the number of canceled flights within, into or out of the country had risen to almost 1,700, according to Flightaware.com. More than 500 flights scheduled for Tuesday have been canceled, according to the website, which does not attribute reasons for cancellations.
LaGuardia Airport and JFK canceled all remaining commercial flights for Monday.
Amtrak on Monday afternoon suspended service between New York City and Boston and New York City and Albany. Amtrak will run a modified schedule Tuesday, the service said.
Storm surge may top seawall
The strong onshore winds from the powerful nor’easter may bring the highest water levels into New York City since Superstorm Sandy flooded city streets and subway lines in 2012.
Storm surge from the system pushed water levels 2 to 3 feet above normal Monday morning.
“The city should see the highest water levels tonight in the runup to high tide,” which occurs around midnight local time, said Bill Goodman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, New York.
The forecast calls for water levels to reach 8.4 feet late Monday, very near the 8.5-foot level where water washes over the Battery Park seawall in New York and begins to flood the boardwalk, according to NOAA data.
“I’d give it a one in three chance to overtop the seawall,” Goodman told CNN. “It is certainly something we will be watching for tonight.”
The hard-hit places
New York City
The snowfall, which began late Sunday night, picked up intensity Monday.
The city transit authority suspended outdoor subway service starting at 2 p.m. Monday.
Buses were still operating, but the city and state are monitoring the situation closely, said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the New York City Transit Authority.
No empty or tandem tractor trailers are allowed on bridges, and pedestrian walkways on some bridges were closed.
Students in the city school system will take classes remotely through Tuesday, de Blasio said.
Strong winds made life difficult for pedestrians at Columbus Circle. One person even had to grab onto a pillar for balance, CNN affiliate WCBS reported, and others struggled to keep their feet.
“It’s a little challenging,” East New York resident Debra Paul said. “The gentleman had to hold me, because I was lifting off the ground.”
The storm could drop up to 21 inches by the time it ends. If that happens, it will be the most snow the city has seen since the January 22-24, 2016, storm that dumped 27.5 inches over a two-day period. It would also cement this storm as one of the most prolific winter storms for the city, placing it in the top 10 of largest snowfall totals on record.
Washington saw 2-3 inches of snow, ending a run of 710 consecutive days without an inch of snow or more, the second-longest in the city going back to 1884.
On Monday, the precipitation transitioned to a sleet and snow mix, coating roadways with ice and adding to driving danger.
There’s a chance of some light snow on Tuesday morning before it ends in the afternoon.
A similar combination of rain and snow hit Philadelphia, where 6 inches of snow fell at the airport. A rain-snow mix in the morning will likely switch back to snow through Tuesday. The final total expected there is around a foot.
Philadelphians made the most of the snow. Larry Levine took his daughter Abigail sledding despite a lack of hills in Rittenhouse Square, CNN affiliate WGBS reported. “Abigail was wondering if there’s enough snow for playing and I said, ‘Let’s give it a try!” Levine said, as he pulled her sled through the park.
A winter weather advisory was in effect and the city issued a snow emergency.
Boston is accustomed to significant snowfall, having alerted crews to plow 2,000 lane miles of the city’s roadways through Tuesday.
More than 67 million people across a dozen states from Tennessee to Maine are under some kind of winter watch or warning.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong first name for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.