A fast-moving winter storm is expected to barrel through parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Wednesday, producing freezing rain, strong winds, hazardous travel conditions along the I-95 corridor, and as much as two feet of snow in some areas. For some locations, including New York City, this could be the biggest snowstorm in years.
The nor’easter is expected to stretch nearly 1,000 miles from North Carolina up to New England, according to the National Weather Service. It is also forecast to bring ice accumulations, tree damage and power outages. Schools operating in person from Northern Virginia to Philadelphia have either already closed or announced plans to shut down early on Wednesday.
The storm will unleash a hazardous mix of rain and then heavy snow starting Wednesday, kicking off in western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, where it will let loose sheets of freezing rain, the Weather Service predicted.
From there, the system is expected to spread, stretching north to Boston, southern New Hampshire and Albany. It could impact areas as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Washington and Northern Virginia.
Late Wednesday morning, heavy snow is forecast to overtake areas near and northwest of Interstate 95 in the Mid-Atlantic region. Washington, Philadelphia and other major cities can expect to be blasted with a wintry mix of rain and snow. Western Maryland and southern central Pennsylvania are forecast to bear the brunt of snow accumulations, with as much as two feet of snow falling.
By Wednesday evening, the system will churn farther northeast, dropping heavy snow on northern New Jersey and southern New York State, including New York City, the Weather Service said. By Wednesday night, the impact of the winter storm will be felt in southern New England, the service predicted.
Storm preparations across the East Coast were underway. Mayor Brandon Scott of Baltimore said Tuesday that the city was fully prepared for the storm and asked residents to avoid travel if possible. In Philadelphia, where up to six inches of snow could fall, officials said crews were loading up tons of salt and putting plows on their trucks.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said on Tuesday that sanitation trucks would be begin anti-icing treatments overnight and that salt spreaders would be out in advance of the snow, which could slam the region with eight to 12 inches. “There’s lines in the store already,” Mary LaRosa of Mineola told CBS New York. “People are shopping like crazy buying everything.”
In Massachusetts, where a foot of snow is also expected, Gov. Charlie Baker asked residents to prepare and avoid travel during the heaviest snowfall time. “It gets busy very quickly,” Colby Thomason of Milton Village Hardware in Milton, Mass., told WHDH. “It’s funny, every year no one seems prepared for the snow until the last minute.”
The major winter storm bearing down on the Northeast has the potential to snarl distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the region.
The storm is expected to bring strong winds, more than six inches of snow and blizzard conditions in many areas on Wednesday and Thursday, threatening to hamper highway travel and knock out power, according to the National Weather Service.
Two giant rivals, UPS and FedEx, are working to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine to vaccination sites from Pfizer’s plants in Michigan and Wisconsin. A spokesman for UPS, Matthew O’Connor, said the company had a team of meteorologists monitoring the weather around the clock.
“We develop contingency plans based on weather forecasts and local conditions, enabling our employees to safely deliver what matters most,” Mr. O’Connor said in a statement. “Should roadways or airports be closed, we will observe all closures, and UPS will be ready to deliver as soon as it is safe.”
He added that UPS’s new health care command center, set up at its air hub in Louisville, Ky., was keeping track of the coronavirus vaccine shipments, which must be kept frozen and require special handling. The command center “can step in with contingency plans should it appear that a package may be delayed,” he said.
Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who heads the operations of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine distribution effort, told reporters on Monday that officials were ready to deal with any issues that could disrupt smooth deliveries, including wrong delivery addresses and truck or airplane accidents.
“I know you’ve seen the weather report,” General Perna said, noting that the storm “could be a problem.” He continued, “My responsibility to deliver safe and effective vaccines means get ahead of that problem.”
About 600 sites, many of them hospitals, were scheduled to receive the vaccine this week, nearly three million doses in all. Some 500,000 doses were delivered on Monday to 142 of the sites around the country.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Tuesday news conference that vaccine delivery and administration would continue despite the weather.
“There’s nothing about the storm at this point that should disrupt the supply of vaccine coming in,” he said.
But the city will close virus testing sites run by the city’s public hospital system from 2 p.m. on Wednesday to noon on Thursday, said Deanne B. Criswell, the commissioner of emergency management.
The nor’easter threatening the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday is predicted to produce up to one foot of snow in New York City, more than than the area saw all last winter.
For the 2019-20 meteorological winter, which is defined as December, January and February, 4.8 inches of snow fell in Central Park, according to the National Weather Service.
That winter, the city tied its second-smallest snow total on record.
The unusually paltry snowfall last winter was a sign of climate change, which leads to volatile weather patterns, said Mark Wysocki, the New York State climatologist. In Central Park, for instance, the past decade saw both the second-snowiest winter — 61.9 inches from December 2010 to February 2011 — and the second-least snowy last season.
“In the 2000s, we’re seeing these extremes, between the driest and the wettest,” Mr. Wysocki said. “Because of the climate changing, this is what we would expect, this volatility.”
If the snow predictions for Boston of eight to 12 inches are correct, the nor’easter could produce at least half of the city’s snow total last winter in a two-day period. The city saw just 15.1 inches of snow last winter, well below the average of 33 inches, according to The Boston Globe.
In Philadelphia, forecasters predict the storm to produce six to eight inches of snow, with totals in Pennsylvania as high as 18 inches north and west in places like Allentown and Reading. Last winter, Philadelphia saw a nearly snowless winter, with less than an inch of snow, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The lack of snow last winter drew attention from many, partly because climate change rose as a public priority for the first time for most Americans, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.
“There’s no strict definition,” said Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. “It’s sort of a loose term.”
Broadly speaking, the term characterizes a weather system in which winds just off the East Coast collide with surface winds from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States amid areas of low pressure.
Nor’easters usually occur between November and March, Mr. Otto said, but they can also form earlier in the fall and in the late spring. The storms can develop 100 miles east or west of the coastline, from as far south as Georgia to New Jersey and beyond up north, according to the Weather Service.
Their effect can be seen in the form of heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet and strong winds. Wind speeds in a nor’easter can reach hurricane force, with rainfall usually hovering around one to two inches. Snowfall can accumulate to a foot or two on average, but can be “pretty variable” over all, Mr. Otto said.
Given that nor’easters can produce dangerous conditions such as power outages, icy roads and fallen trees, Mr. Otto said it was recommended that people prepare for the storm in advance, stocking up on necessities such as batteries and extra food early, to avoid traveling during the worst of the weather.
There’s another kind of nor’easter, too.
The Nor’easter cocktail is a mix of bourbon, maple syrup, ginger beer and lime juice. Read more about it and get the recipe over at Cooking.
New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, is one of many districts across the United States that plan to forgo the tradition of canceling classes in response to heavy snow this year. Instead, schools forced to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic are preparing to continue logging on for virtual lessons, plowing ahead remotely even when winter weather hits.
In Philadelphia, teachers plan to continue classes virtually if the expected storm hits. In Denver, schools moved fully online for large snowfall in late October. And officials in Omaha said last month that students would learn online regardless of snow, even beyond this year.
The shift could be permanent.
“I’m kind of sad for the kids on the one hand,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, who called snow days a “thing of the past.” “On the other hand, we’ve got a lot of learning that needs to be done and lot of catching up.”
Sarah Allen, a parent in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, said if streets near her home are coated this week, her four children will not be attending classes as usual.
“I felt like no matter what kind of learning we’re doing this year,” she said, “this isn’t something that needs to be taken away from kids who have already lost a lot, ranging from not being able to see friends to losing parents to Covid.”
With complicated logistical and political factors to consider, officials in some areas were already looking for ways to eliminate school cancellations because of the weather. And this year, many education experts say that keeping students in class is especially vital.
“Particularly because kids have already lost so much learning time, adding to that for no good reason just seems bizarre,” said Joshua Goodman, an associate professor of education and economics at Boston University. “We’re literally in a world in which it’d be super easy to cancel school for an hour of play or give them a break in the middle of the day.”
Some New Jersey districts that are mixing in-person and remote classes will wait to see how severe a snowstorm is before making a decision. School officials in Mahwah, in Bergen County, said in a letter to parents that winter weather offered an opportunity for “memory-making,” and that remote classes would not be held if school would otherwise be canceled.
“Snow days are chances for on-site learners and virtual learners to just be kids by playing in the snow, baking cookies, reading books and watching a good movie,” officials wrote.