Nearly 100,000 customers were without power in the mid-Atlantic and north-eastern United States on Tuesday as a late winter storm that promised to pummel the north-east with more than a foot of snow turned to sleet early – with heavy precipitation in place of the predicted persistent snowfall on the coast.
By Tuesday evening, most of the east coast was out from under the storm. Residents in northern New England are expected to see wintry conditions persist into early Wednesday morning, while the rest of the mid and north-Atlantic can expect gusty winds and below freezing temperatures – but no more rain or snow – through the night.
The overnight temperature drop, into the mid-20s fahrenheit in New York and Boston, has the potential to create dangerous icy conditions in coastal areas where the majority of the precipitation fell as sleet and rain, as it refreezes on roads, bridges and highways.
Forecasters warned snowy conditions could return in the afternoon, but cut their snowfall predictions for metropolitan areas by several inches early on Tuesday as models showed the storm hitting farther west than initially predicted.
Dominion Power reported more than 50,000 customers in the dark in Virginia on Tuesday morning, with more than 40,000 of those outages in the Richmond area. Maryland officials reported about 30,000 outages. The Massachusetts emergency management agency says at least 62,000 customers experienced outages. Thousands more were reported in Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and around Philadelphia.
This increased the threat of icy conditions and freezing rain, meaning travel remains dangerous across the north-east.
Although many coastal areas escaped the heavy volume of snow expected, blizzard-like accumulations did materialize further inland, with 18 to 24 inches of snow piling up in large swaths of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
Towns along Pennsylvania’s northern tier had nearly 16in before 9am, and nearly 2ft fell in the Pocono mountains.
High winds were measured at the coast, with gusts between 50 and 55mph battering the eastern seaboard. And “thundersnow”, when snow instead of rain is part of a thunderstorm, was detected in New Jersey.
Strong winds toppled a wind turbine at a Narragansett, Rhode Island, beach, where wind gusts had reached up to 55mph. Governor Gina Raimondo said no one was hurt by the falling turbine, which is owned by the state’s department of environmental management.
Meteorologists had predicted snowfall totals as high as 20in (50cm) in New York City from the storm’s start late on Monday through to Tuesday evening, but these predictions were moderated when Tuesday’s early morning snow turned out to instead be predominantly a wintry mix. Four to six inches of snow were now Later forecasts predicted four to six inches of snow.
The National Weather Service’s office near Philadelphia called the storm “life-threatening” and warned people to “shelter in place”. Coastal flooding was also predicted.
At least 6,700 flights scheduled for Tuesday were cancelled and nearly 1,000 flights scheduled for Wednesday have been cancelled. These numbers are expected to rise.
Amtrak cancelled and modified services up and down the north-east corridor and motorists were urged to stay off the roads.
In New York City, the above-ground portions of the subway system were being shut down from 4am on Tuesday. Connecticut’s governor, Dannel P Malloy, imposed a statewide travel ban beginning at 5am.
Amid the storm on Tuesday, Malloy encouraged people to stay home: “Good day to make brownies … and/or read a book”.
The dismal forecast prompted early decisions to close schools on Tuesday in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and many places in between.
The New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel and help keep the roads clear. “If you must go out, do so for as limited time period as possible … but the best thing to do is stay in,” De Blasio said on Monday.
Despite this warning, in the New York City borough of Staten Island, two ponies escaped during the storm. Police wrangled the ponies and returned them to their owner.
The storm comes a week after the region saw temperatures climb into the 60s fahrenheit as the first day of spring, 20 March, approaches.
Last week, the 2016-2017 winter became the first on record to have three occurrences of measurable snowfall after a 60F day in New York City.
The storm halted travel around the country and transit officials expect issues to linger after the storm passes.
People were left stranded in airports, including Laura and Matthew Balderstone of West Yorkshire, UK, who intended to spend their honeymoon in Florida but were stranded at the Newark, New Jersey, airport and couldn’t find a hotel room.
“It’s better safe than sorry, especially flying. I suppose it’s a shame that we can’t get another way around this. It’s just the way it is, unfortunately,” Matthew Balderstone said.
On social media, Americans used the hashtag #snowmageddon2017 to vent their feelings about the impending storm.
The phrase “snowmageddon” was coined ahead of an early February 2010 snowstorm that brought 25-30in of snow across the north-east.
In Washington DC, where the National Cherry Blossom festival is scheduled to start on Wednesday, snow accumulations of 6-8in were expected, leading the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to postpone her trip to Washington for her first face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump. Merkel had been scheduled to arrive late on Monday night for meetings with Trump on Tuesday. The White House said the meeting was rescheduled for Friday.