The US east coast fell into a deep freeze on Sunday, after a powerful nor’easter dumped mounds of snow, flooded coastlines and knocked out power to tens of thousands.
Dangerous wind chills were expected after the storm dumped snow from Virginia to Maine. The weather may have contributed to at least four deaths in New York, all on Long Island.
One was an elderly woman who was found on Saturday in a hotel parking lot in Uniondale, New York, with her car window open, according to Nassau county police. Authorities reported the deaths of two men, aged 53 and 75, who collapsed while shoveling snow at separate locations in the town of Syosset. Suffolk county police said an elderly man fell into a swimming pool while shoveling snow in Southhold and was pronounced dead after resuscitation attempts failed.
The Massachusetts lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito, said officials were not aware of any storm-related fatalities in the state.
But Massachusetts bore the brunt of the storm, the town of Sharon getting more than 30in of snow. More than 100,000 lost power. On Sunday the utility Eversource said it had 1,700 crews working to restore electricity and expected everyone to have power by late Monday. No other states reported widespread outages.
About 1,400 US flights were canceled on Sunday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.
Several states declared emergencies in response to the storm, which formed in the Atlantic off the Carolinas and moved north to Maine.
Winds gusted as high as 83mph on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Coastal towns flooded, with wind and waves battering North Weymouth, south of Boston, flooding streets with a slurry of frigid water. Other videos showed a street underwater on Nantucket and waves crashing against the windows of a building in Plymouth.
Forecasters watched for snowfall records. The Boston area’s modern record for a winter storm is 27.6in, set in 2003. The city tied its record for biggest single-day snowfall on Saturday, with 23.6in, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
Climate change, particularly the warming ocean, probably influenced the strength of the storm, atmospheric researchers said. Much warmer ocean waters “are certainly playing a role in the strengthening of the storm system and increased moisture available for the storm”, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado. “But it isn’t the only thing.”
The storm had two saving graces: dry snow less capable of snapping trees and tearing down power lines and its timing on a weekend, when schools were closed and few people were commuting.
Like most major winter storms in New England, the nor’easter drew comparisons to an infamous 1978 storm which paralyzed the region for days.
“I was around for the Blizzard of ’78, and this one was worse,” Joe Brescia, 72, said Sunday, tears streaming from the bitter cold as he shoveled his sidewalk in Warwick, Rhode Island. “The wind was tremendous.”
Bao Ha, 26, also went outside to shovel on Sunday morning, under sunny blue skies in Waltham, outside Boston, where 16in of snow fell on Saturday.
“It’s funny, it didn’t look so bad when I looked out the window this morning,” Ha said. “But it’s light, so it’s easy to shovel.”
Parts of 10 states were under blizzard warnings at some point: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, along with much of the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
The NWS considers a storm a blizzard if it has snowfall or blowing snow, as well as winds of at least 35mph that reduce visibility to a quarter-mile or less for at least three hours. In many areas, Saturday’s storm met those criteria.
Washington and Baltimore got some snow but were largely spared. The worst of the nor’easter was expected to blow by Sunday into Canada, where several provinces were under warnings.