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Heavy, wet snow snarls commuters, travelers alike in Northeast

A customer pulls a cart carrying bags of rock salt ice melt at a Home Depot store ahead of the latest winter storm in Philadelphia on March 6, 2018.

March 7, 2018 03:13 pm Updated: March 7, 2018 03:13 pm

New York will be hit with the heaviest snow on Wednesday afternoon from a storm that's already grounded almost 2,000 flights and could cut power to many in the Northeast who just had their service restored after an earlier winter blast.

From 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) of snow should fall across New York City, said Faye Morrone, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York. A rainy mix could hit Brooklyn and parts of Queens, keeping accumulations lower there before the storm wraps up around midnight.

Airlines have canceled 1,958 flights as of 7 a.m., according to FlightAware, an airline tracking service. Most are scheduled to fly in or out of airports in New York, Newark, Boston and Philadelphia. Amtrak has also scrubbed a number of trains running between Washington, New York and Boston, according to a statement from the railroad.

"When we get into the afternoon it will not be a fun time to be out on the road," Morrone said. "The farther north and west you go, the more snow you will see. The farther out on Long Island you go, the less snow you will see."

Just last week another nor'easter grounded thousands of flights, halted Amtrak rail services and left more than 2 million customers in the dark from Ohio to Maine, as well as devastating the Massachusetts coastline north and south of Boston. Damages from the storm may exceed more than $1 billion in insured losses, according to Jonathan Adams and Derek Han, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts.

The impending storm comes on the cusp of Spring, which begins on March 20. It won't be as potent in terms of destructive winds and waves, but it will probably mean more snow for people living along the coast.

Locally, commuters will also face challenges from the storm. Metro-North Railroad has reduced schedules on its lines in the Hudson Valley, Connecticut and to points west. New Jersey Transit is operating many of its lines on Severe Weather Schedule Level 1.

Thousands still without power following last week's storm are in path to get the worst of the latest storm, according to Rob Carolan, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, New Hampshire. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in Westchester, Putnam, Sullivan and Dutchess counties after last week's storm.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, limiting travel, starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Parts of the state were especially at risk because nor'easter-driven wind last week left trees and utility poles vulnerable.

"Let's all exercise common sense," Murphy, who took office seven weeks ago, said at the state police's emergency operations center in West Trenton.

Late-season storms can actually do more damage to power lines than storms that hit in the dead of winter, according to Shunondo Basu, meteorologist and natural gas analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The warmer air is able to hold more moisture, which brings a heavier, wetter snow -- and sleet -- than the fluffy flakes that tend to fall in January.

On the positive side, the high angle of the sun, along with the relatively mild temperatures expected after the snow stops, will likely speed melting. Basu said.

Morrone said the sun should return Thursday and temperatures rise to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius), which should help with the cleanup.

Philadelphia could get eight inches, while cities and towns to the northwest may get double that, the weather service said. In the New York area, the highest amounts will likely fall around West Milford, New Jersey, which could end the day with 20 inches. Heavy amounts will extend into Connecticut, potentially burying Danbury, Waterbury and Meriden.

Snow totals will really depend on how much rain mixes in, said Carolan in Nashua, New Hampshire. It is likely a band of heavy snow will develop as the storm moves up the East Coast, providing "a primary conveyor belt'' into New York and then that "will rotate up across New England.''

New York will have its heaviest snow from about 11 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., said Carolan, who provides forecasts for Bloomberg radio.

Boston will likely fall on the warm side of the storm and pick up mostly rain, with snowfall totals only reaching about 2 inches, according to the weather service. Its northern and western suburbs could get a foot or more.

"For now, the rain-snow line is along 95, and it will continue to go back and forth," Carolan said, referring to the interstate running parallel to the Atlantic coast. "Whoever is just west of the line is going to get heavy, wet snow and they are most vulnerable to power outages."

Winter storm warnings, as well as coastal flood warnings and advisories spread from Maryland to Maine, covering many areas that were damaged by the last storm. Residents along the shoreline have a few advantages this time around, said Ronald Busciolano, a supervisory hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. This storm is moving faster than the previous one, and the astronomical tides aren't as high. When last week's nor'easter hit, the sun, Earth and moon were all aligned to send water surging.

"The expected surge is not going to be as high and not as long as this past storm," Busciolano said. "Snow may be the main weather issue."

The snow will be a boost for some, Basu said.

"The interior Northeast and interior New England are going to be the sweet spots for this storm," he said. "Ski resorts are going to have a ball with this."

 

--With assistance from Mark Chediak and Elise Young