NEW YORK (Reuters) – A life-threatening blizzard barreled into the US Northeast, affecting up to 20 percent of Americans as it kept workers and students housebound, halted thousands of flights and prompted New York to ban cars from roads and shut down subway trains.
With memories still fresh of Sandy, a superstorm that ravaged the East Coast in 2012, the governors of six East Coast states declared emergencies. The storm could affect up to 60 million people in nearly a dozen states.
The National Weather Service warned of a “life-threatening blizzard” that could dump as much as 30 inches (76cm) of snow on parts of the region at rates up to four inches an hour. Winds might gust up to 55 mph (80kph) around New York City.
The National Weather Service in New York said roughly 5.5 inches of snow had fallen in the Manhattan’s Central Park by early Tuesday and nearly nine inches were recorded on parts of Long Island. NWS officials in Boston reported early on Tuesday wind gusting up to 70mph at Nantucket Memorial Airport.
“Please stay home,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told residents, ordering all but the most essential government workers in his state home from Monday afternoon until Wednesday at the earliest.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned travel from 11pm (0400 GMT) for all but emergency vehicles on roads in 13 counties, including New York City, suburban Westchester and Long Island, with the threat of a $300 fine for violators.
“If you are in your car and you are on any road, town, village, city, it doesn’t matter, after 11 o’clock, you will technically be committing a crime,” Cuomo said. “It could be a matter of life and death so caution is required.”
Additional driving bans in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey brought travel across the region to a standstill amid near white-out conditions.
Stuck at home, many Easterners turned to social media to give voice to their frustration, adopting such storm-related hashtags as #blizzardof2015, #Snowmageddon2015 and #Snowpocalypse.
“Across NE, millions are panicked they may lose internet and have to talk to their families. Trying hard to remember names. #Snowmageddon2015,” tweeted Stuart Stevens, who goes by the Twitter handle @stuartpstevens.
The United Nations headquarters gave itself a day off on Tuesday. East Coast schools, including New York City – the nation’s largest public school system, serving 1 million students – shut down. Universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, canceled classes.
Stock exchanges, including Intercontinental Exchange Inc’s New York Stock Exchange unit, Nasdaq OMX Group, and BATS Global Markets, said they expected to stay open for normal operating hours on Tuesday.