US Northeast prepares for strong winter storm

AP

A storm expected to bring heavy snow, stiff winds and punishing cold pushed into the U.S. Northeast on Thursday, extending Christmas break for some students while posing the first test for New York’s new mayor and perhaps the last challenge for Boston’s outgoing one.

Some schools in New England and New York closed well ahead of the snow, while cities mobilized plows and salt spreaders, and state offices sent workers home early. Some major highways were ordered shut down overnight. U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights nationwide on Thursday in advance of the storm.

The heavy weather began rolling in just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation’s largest city and a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.

Menino announced a parking ban and said schools would be closed Friday in Boston, where up to 36 cm of snow was expected. Boston’s airport said it would not handle any flights after 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

“What a New Year’s gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor,” said Menino, whose successor takes office Monday.

De Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticized his predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a post-Christmas storm, said hundreds of plows and salt spreaders would be on the streets as soon as the snow started falling Thursday night.

“We have to get it right, no question about it,” de Blasio said. “We are focused like a laser on protecting this city and getting everyone ready. We have all hands on deck.”

Snow began falling overnight Wednesday in parts of New England and New York state, but the brunt of the storm wasn’t expected until late Thursday. Forecasters said temperatures would plummet to well below freezing.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, coastal areas north and south of Boston and part of Maine as well as New York’s Long Island, where up to 25 cm of snow could fall and winds could gust to 72 kph.

Interior southern New England and New York state could get up to a foot of snow. New York City was expecting 20 cm, while Philadelphia could see up to 18 cm.

As the storm approached, a worker at a suburban Philadelphia salt storage facility was killed Thursday afternoon when a 30-meter-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe. There was no immediate word on what may have caused the accident.

As the storm pushed eastward on New Year’s Day and Thursday, it dropped as much as 46 cm on suburban Chicago and up to 25 cm on Michigan, prompting the cancellation Wednesday of hundreds of flights in and out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Below-zero cold is expected across the region over the next few days.