AFP — Blinding snow whipped up by powerful winds pummeled the eastern United States on Saturday, as one of the strongest winter storms in years triggered transport chaos and power outages across a region of some 70 million people.
Major cities like New York and Boston bore the brunt of the blizzard, which the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed intensified Saturday into a “bomb cyclone” — characterized by the explosive power of rapid drops in atmospheric pressure.
The heaviest-hit parts of New York and Massachusetts received two feet (61 centimeters) of snow by early evening, with more than 95,000 homes in Massachusetts reported without power.
Cold weather stretched as far south as Florida, where the NWS warned of “scattered to isolated falling iguanas from trees” as plunging temperatures temporarily paralyzed the large lizards.
Residents in towns and cities across the eastern seaboard were urged to avoid all unnecessary travel for a second night of whiteout conditions, with additional snowfall expected to be heaviest across New England.
In Long Island, officials said a woman had been found dead in her car by a snowplow operator.
Salt machines and snowplows crawled along the streets of New York City, where Central Park was covered in 7.5 inches of snow and regional train lines were partially shut down.
In Times Square, the famous neon billboards formed glowing halos in the snowy air. But the frigid temperatures didn’t stop Robert Burck, a Times Square fixture known as the “Naked Cowboy.”
Wearing only his underwear, a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, he strolled through the nearly empty tourist hotspot, strumming his guitar.
“It’s fantastic,” one undaunted tourist, Gonzalo Vazquez of Spain, told AFP in Times Square. “It’s like skiing, surrounded by lights and awesome LED screens.”
In the trendy Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, the sidewalks were almost deserted and many businesses were closed. But the few who did brave the elements smiled as they wished each other, “Happy snow day!”
New York and the neighboring state of New Jersey plus Virginia, Maryland and Delaware declared emergencies for all or part of the states.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the storm’s perils were not over yet, warning residents Saturday that “the most dangerous phase of the storm is now.”
“Please continue to avoid any unnecessary travel while our crews are working to clear the roads,” she said.
Getting ‘quite ugly’
In Boston where a snow emergency was declared, Mayor Michelle Wu tweeted a reminder Saturday “to stay off the roads if you can.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said there had been “serious whiteout conditions for most of the midday today,” and that there was still “pretty limited visibility out there.”
Eric Calessandro, a homeowner in the town of Marshfield near Boston said he had just lost power, but was optimistic his 8,000-watt generator would pull him through.
He said he “should be able to bear it out for a couple days without power,” adding that he had stocked up on food and water in advance.
Boston Public Works said 900 snow plows were hard at work on the city streets.
Plow driver Mark Burns, working in Boston’s South Shore area, said the snow had gotten heavy: “It was supposed to be light and fluffy, but it’s a little wet now.”
More than 3,500 flights were canceled for Saturday traveling within, into or out of the United States, according to flight tracker FlightAware, and just over 1,000 flights have already been canceled for Sunday.
Cancellations on Friday totaled more than 1,450.
The blizzard comes on the heels of a similar winter storm that blanketed a swath of Eastern North America — from Georgia to Canada — just two weeks ago, cutting power to thousands of homes and also disrupting thousands of flights. By Joe Prezioso with Ed Jones in New York