Winter reboot – Late-season blizzard slams northeast U.S.

By Jonathan Allen and Scott Malone. NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) – A blizzard swept through the heavily populated northeastern United States on Tuesday, grounding flights, canceling classes and encasing Washington’s famed cherry blossoms in ice.

A commuter walks across a street during a snowstorm in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Some 50 million people from Pennsylvania to Maine faced a “rapidly intensifying nor’easter” that was unusual for striking so late in the winter, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Many heeded official advice to stay home.

The NWS sharply dialed back forecasts for some areas, notably New York City, where residents had been warned to steel themselves for potentially record-breaking snow.

Still, some in the region could expect up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow by early Wednesday, the weather service predicted, with the worst blizzard conditions forecast for parts of New England.

Governors in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia declared states of emergency. Above-ground parts of New York City’s subway service were suspended, and Metro-North commuter service to the suburbs shut down at noon. Train services to Boston and Albany were also suspended.

New York City was expected to escape the worst of the weather after the NWS withdrew its blizzard warning and roughly halved its snowfall forecast for the city to between 4 and 8 inches (10 and 20 cm).

“Mother Nature is an unpredictable lady sometimes,” the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said at a news conference. “She was unpredictable today.” Areas upstate were already buried in more snow than forecast, he said, and up to 30 inches of snow was still expected in central parts of the state.

Still, life was disrupted for many in the city.

“It’s a ghost town,” Ali Naji, 33, said as he sat listening to Mexican pop music amid the emptiness of his usually bustling convenience store in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood.

His morning commute was easy enough since he lives upstairs. “I drop a rope and come down,” Naji said, laughing, but added that he could see why others would be deterred. He gestured out the window, where an occasional pedestrian could be seen trudging in an umbrella-forward stoop against the wind and sleet.

In Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Lisa Luna, 36, and a friend walked around, hungry for breakfast.

“We weren’t prepared for the blizzard and didn’t go shopping,” she said. “I just needed a bagel.”

AIR TRAFFIC SNARLED

Airlines canceled about 5,900 flights across the United States, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

American Airlines canceled all flights into New York’s three airports – Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport – and JetBlue Airways reported extensive cancellations.

Delta Air Lines canceled 800 flights for Tuesday for New York, Boston and other northeast airports. United Airlines said it would have no operations at Newark or LaGuardia.

New York City public schools – the largest U.S. school system – canceled classes on Tuesday as did schools in the Washington, D.C., area, Boston, Philadelphia and northern New Jersey. Electricity companies worked to restore power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses cut off by the storm.

In Washington, federal agencies opened three hours later than normal.

At the open-sided Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the ice-slick marble floor served as a skating rink for some of the 71 eighth graders visiting from St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood, Colorado.

Math teacher Michael Pattison, 65, ticked off all the monuments and museums the students would see that day.

“This weather is not going to stop us,” he said, clapping his gloved hands.

“No, it’s not,” a couple of students shouted back.

Nearby, scores of cherry trees in early bloom, a tourist attraction and an emblem of springtime in the capital, were encased in ice.

The storm comes near the end of an unusually mild winter along much of the East Coast, with below-normal snowfalls.

In Boston, Kelley Peace, a 26-year-old dog walker, was out with three of her charges in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, where residents braced for up to a foot of snow.

“The dogs are more hyper in this weather,” she said. “They want to play. Especially the big dogs. The only thing is the salt. It burns their paws. So I put booties on them.”

(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney and Gina Cherulus in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington and Valerie Vande Panne in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

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