The storm that has whipped the U.S. Northeast with blinding snow is churning up high winds and pulling frigid air down from the Arctic, creating conditions that by Friday could make it feel as cold as 30 degrees below zero across parts of the region.
After the fast-moving weather system pushes off toward Nova Scotia, freezing temperatures building up across Canada will rush into the central and eastern parts of the U.S., said David Hamrick of the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
“It will be noteworthy,” he said. “We will see records.”
The storm has continued to grow increasingly powerful in a process called bombogenesis — known to some as a bomb cyclone — which occurs when a system’s central air pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. In fact, the pressure plummeted by 21 millibars in just six hours overnight, said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center. “It is really going to town.”
At noon, the storm’s center was about 200 miles south Nantucket island with a central pressure rivaling a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, Hamrick said.
High temperatures aren’t expected to reach 20 degrees from Washington on north Friday. Combined with wind gusts, the streets in Manhattan and Boston could feel as cold as minus-10 to minus-15. On top of the mountain ridges west of the large East Coast cities, it could feel closer to minus-30 or even minus-40, he said.
On Thursday, the storm grounded more than 3,000 flights, prompted states of emergency in parts of New York and New Jersey and closed schools from Philadelphia to Boston. Traffic was uncharacteristically light on the wind-tossed streets of of Midtown Manhattan, and subways were emptier than normal. Connecticut and Massachusetts told non-essential state workers to stay home.
Manhattan could get as much as 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow by late Thursday and Boston could see 14 inches, the National Weather Service said.
“There is moderate to heavy snow from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, all the way down to New York City,” said Rob Carolan, a meteorologist at Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Winter-storm warnings cover parts of 13 eastern states, while blizzard warnings blanket the U.S. coast from North Carolina to Maine, including New Jersey, Long Island and Boston. Governors in several states have declared emergencies. On Wednesday, the storm brought snow as far as south as Florida. Charleston, South Carolina, got 5.3 inches. In Brunswick, Georgia, large chunks of ice fell on commuters’ cars from the old oak trees that frame the streets.
About 72,000 homes and businesses were blacked out as of 11 a.m. New York time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from utility websites. More than half were in Virginia Beach and the surrounding area, according to utility owner Dominion Energy Inc.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the states of emergency in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. “Unless it’s essential for you to be out and using the roads today, you should not be,” he said at a news conference.
New Jersey closed its state offices and declared emergencies in Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties.
As of early afternoon Thursday, 3,621 flights around the U.S. were canceled, with airports in New York, New Jersey and Boston hardest hit, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. Amtrak had cut back on train service between Boston and New York, according to a statement.
The Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad were reporting delays on commuter lines. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority canceled ferry service in Boston Harbor and was running commuter trains on a reduced schedule. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported delays and service changes on more than a dozen subway lines. Bus service to and from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan may be delayed as much as 30 minutes, New Jersey Transit said.
High winds brought on near whiteout conditions in much of Long Island.
In addition to the snow, coastal areas are at risk for flooding, the weather service said. Tides in New York could run about 18 inches higher than normal, putting parts of Queens and Staten Island particularly at risk until about noon, Faye Morrone, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York, said.
Tides could run even higher along the Massachusetts coastline just after midday Thursday, the weather service said.
One bright spot might be the storm’s speed, Carolan said. Unlike past historic blizzards that caused billions in damage from flooding and snowfall, this storm won’t stick around.
“It is moving very, very quickly. It is in and out, which is good news because it is going to limit the potential damage,” Carolan said. “It only gets one tide cycle” to bring its worst to the coast.
The speed of the storm could even hold down total snowfalls, he said. It’s possible New York won’t reach the 9 inches forecast by meteorologists.
As the storm moves north into Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia could get pummeled with heavy snow, high winds and damaging surf, according to Environment Canada. In the U.S., the storm will give way to plunging temperatures from the Great Plains to the East Coast.
“There is a lot of potential for records being broken Friday and Saturday,” said Gregg Gallina, a forecaster with the Weather Prediction Center.
Even South Florida will feel the chill, Carolan said, with lows dropping into the 30s in Miami.