New England slammed by potentially ‘crippling’ winter storm

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(CNN) — Rise and shine, New England.

You can’t — or really shouldn’t — head out to Dunkin’ Donuts for a pick-me-up coffee Tuesday morning. But you don’t have to leave the house to get a jolt: Just look outside at the swirling, rapidly falling snow or listen to the howling winds.

New York City residents woke up breathing a sigh of relief after the blizzard of 2015 dumped snow there, but not to the extent some had feared. In fact, the blizzard warning once in effect for much of New Jersey and New York was lifted Tuesday morning, with travel bans for parts of New York state no longer in effect as of 8 a.m., according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

For the rest of the Northeast, it’s still too early to exhale.

“We have drifting (outside) our facility of up to 2 to 3 feet,” Sgt. Mark Cabral from the Barnstable Police Department in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, said Tuesday morning. “It’s still coming down pretty heavy, and it’s whiteout conditions.”

Around that time, the nearby town of Sandwich already had 13 inches of standing snow. Shrewsbury, close to Worcester, then had the most in Massachusetts with some 18 inches, Gov. Charlie Baker said.

And it’s still coming. A blizzard warning remains in effect in some parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts through early Wednesday morning. That means not just more heavy snow, but powerful winds gusting near hurricane levels.

Nantucket and its roughly 10,000 residents have been lashed especially hard, with overnight gusts of 78 mph. Police Chief William Pittman told CNN that “we’ve lost power to the entire island.” That’s in addition to flooding, heavy snow and downed trees on the Massachusetts island.

The good news? People seemed to have heeded the warnings about a storm forecast as “crippling” and “potentially historic” by stocking up and staying inside. The Massachusetts governor said there were about 200 people in shelters statewide, while Cabral said Cape roads are largely clear of all but emergency vehicles.

One of the millions staying home is Rafi Menachem. As his wife, a doctor, stays stuck at work at Boston Medical Center, he’s trying to hold down the fort in nearby Brookline.

“We’re hunkered down with food, shelter and water,” Menachem said. “I’m worried about electricity.”

The forecast

Conditions eased in New York and New Jersey early Tuesday, with the weather being far less frightful than some anticipated.

In fact, there was no snow falling in New York City as of 7:45 a.m.

“This is a better safe than sorry scenario,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN. “We’ve dodged the bullet. … This is nothing like we feared it would be.”

The forecast also improved a bit for Boston, which was originally expecting up to 30 inches of snow. It’s now expecting 15 to 25 inches, and in some cases a bit more.

Up to 58 million people could be put into the deep freeze. And the storm could have a far-reaching economic impact, even beyond the region directly hit.

States of emergency are in place in seven states across the region — Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

The impact

Flying into and out of the Northeast is a non-starter.

Some 4,650 flights in and out of the United States had already been canceled as of 8:35 a.m. Tuesday, the flight-tracking website Flightaware.com reported. That’s on top of 2,800 scrubbed Monday. Hundreds more have already been called off for Wednesday.

The hardest-hit airports were in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Boston’s Logan International Airport won’t reopen until Wednesday.

The major U.S. airlines are offering fee-free rebooking of flights to and from the Northeast through Tuesday.

For some travelers, it was touch and go. Ricardo Canadinhas looked through an ice-coated window on his Virgin Atlantic flight before takeoff. He could barely see. “#isthissafe,” he tweeted.

Amtrak said it was suspending Northeast Regional and Acela Express services between New York and Boston for Tuesday because of severe weather.

Other Amtrak train routes in the region will operate at reduced frequencies, the rail line said.

The roads

“It is no joke to have people stranded on a highway. We’ve gone through that before,” Cuomo told reporters Monday. “It is frightening how quickly a simple trip to the supermarket can wind up being very dangerous.”

Connecticut and Massachusetts also put travel bans in place. Violating the ban can set you back $500 in Massachusetts.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency. Cars left parked on snow emergency routes will be towed and owners ticketed, he said.

“It’s going to be the kind of night where the best thing anybody can do is stay inside,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday evening.

The reaction

The storm warnings seemed to impress even the most jaded Northeasterner.

Groceries flew off store shelves from Brooklyn to Bangor.

Michelle Thompson, a professor who lives in New York, found little left at a Greenwich Village grocery store.

“These are the sorts of supplies New Yorkers need,” she said, gazing at the empty shelves. “Apparently, fresh bread is imperative as well eggs. Don’t forget the dried pasta and sauce!”

It was the same story at the Star Market, where Menachem shops in Boston.

“A majority of the produce, deli meats, eggs, milk and bread were all gone,” he said.

The response

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said his force was well-prepared, with a fleet of vehicles equipped with tire chains and large SUVs capable of traversing snowy streets.

New York state has at least 1,806 plows and more than 126,000 tons of salt to spray onto roads across the region.

The National Guard also was positioning six dozen personnel and 20 vehicles throughout the state.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said there was no doubt his city would be slammed. It has 700 pieces of snow-moving equipment and 35,000 tons of salt ready, he said.

A storm such as this means something different to school kids. For them, it’s a snow day.

Classes have been called off in hundreds of school districts, including New York City, Boston and Philadelphia.

The wait

Let’s face it, the Northeast knows all about snow.

A little bit of white stuff isn’t going to spoil things.

In Times Square, a few brave souls were still slipping and sliding through the slush to snap a selfie or two.

Steve Nogueira, a retired meteorologist who lives in Taunton, Massachusetts, south of Boston, said the storm’s impressive, but he and his wife are ready for it.

“It’s pretty wild out here right now, blowing and drifting,” he said. “We’re pretty used to it. We have food, milk and beer. … We also have a gas stove, so if we lose power we can still cook.

“We’ll get through it. We’re New Englanders. We’ve done it before.”

CNN’s Josh Levs, Ralph Ellis, Ashley Fantz, Sara Ganim, Joe Sutton, Dana Ford, Aaron Cooper, Joshua Gaynor, Taylor Ward, Teri Genova and Kevin Conlon contributed to this report.

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