A powerful blizzard blanketed the tri-state area on Sunday, shutting down roads, airports and mass transit systems, stranding thousands of travellers, and putting a chill in retailers' day-after-Christmas sales.
As a result of the massive storm, Long Island Rail Road service was suspended in both directions, NJ Transit suspended bus service, and all flights were cancelled out of Newark and JFK airports. JFK airport was later shut down. Motorists were stranded across the region as were commuters on the Long Island Rail Road and the subways.
By late Sunday, the blizzard already dropped 18 inches on some tri-state areas, including Brooklyn, New Brunswick and the Jersey shore, as heavy bands of snow slowly moved across the region, dumping as much as 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour. Forecasters predicted snowfall totals of 12 to 20 inches in parts of New York and New Jersey by Monday, when the storm was expected to taper off.
A state of emergency was declared in New Jersey on Sunday evening but a decision on whether to close state government offices on Monday was still left to be made.
New York-area airports canceled more than 1400 flights. All flights were suspended out of JFK and Newark airports. Travelers are encouraged to check with their individual airline for more details. Meanwhile, Con Ed said it is preparing crews and extra personnel to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of any power outages.
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Meantime,New Jersey Transit is suspending bus service statewide Sunday and cutting back rail service on Monday. NJ Transit also says it will run fewer trains on most of its lines Monday as cleanup continues and demand is expected to be light.
The trains will run on an enhanced weekend schedule with more trains than a typical weekend but fewer than a regular weekday. The buses were to be suspended starting at 8:30 p.m.
The National Weather Service said late Sunday that the storm had met the criteria for a blizzard in New York City and on Long Island. A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph.
Matt Scalora, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the blizzard would be remembered for gusting winds greater than 60 mph.
"It doesn't happen too often," he said.
A blizzard warning remains in effect until 6 pm Monday evening as heavy gusts winds, reaching up to 55 miles per hour, were predicted to cause near zero visibility and enormous snow drifts.
For many people, however, the storm's timing was perfect: the day after Christmas, a Sunday, no school for at least a week.
"Love snowy days when I don't have to go anywhere. Staying in — just me and my cozy new socks," author Neesha Meminger wrote on Twitter from her home in the Bronx.
She told the AP she's able to savor the moment because her children, ages 6 and 9, are on holiday break: "If this was during the school week, I would be cursing."
Colleen and Graham James of Montclair, N.J., represented the other side of the coin. They were at Newark Airport with their two young children and their dachshund, trying to reach family in Iowa, but their connecting flight to Chicago was delayed more than two and a half hours.
"We left the day after Christmas to avoid the Christmas craze. I guess that didn't work out so well," Colleen James said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday afternoon urged people to stay home -- even if this delays a planned commute back home after the Christmas holiday. “Please don’t get on the roads unless you absolutely have to.” I know its inconvenient…it can be expensive. But nothing is worth losing your life over," he said.
Meanwhile, New York public schools, on holiday break, are not affected by the storm. Students in private school should check with that institution.
At area homeless shelters, a "code blue" has been issued and anyone who sees someone without a safe place to sleep is urged to call 311.
Amtrak has canceled service between Boston and New York following the 5:10 p.m. departure on Sunday. That's a total of eight trains canceled -- five to Boston and three to New York Sunday night.
Authorities in New Jersey say numerous accidents and spinouts are being reported across the state -- and they warn that most roads, including the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway are slushy and slippery.
In New Jersey, people were up early to stock up on ice, shovels and snowblowers . Michelle Austin of Hackensack said she "had to come from Bergen County 'cause everything is closed there today."
Heavy accumulations combined with frigid temperatures and strong winds will make the Monday morning commute extraordinarily difficult for those across the area -- and especially frustrating for those who have to dig their cars out. Allot plenty of extra time and only drive if you must.
The snow may mix with or change to rain and sleet at the height of the storm late Sunday night across eastern Long Island and possibly across coastal Connecticut, which could hold down total amounts there but only after significant accumulation has already taken place.
The National Weather Service urges drivers to proceed carefully, citing the anticipated high accumulations of snow, and strong winds causing considerable blowing and drifting of snow that will make it nearly impossible to see at times. The strongest winds will be across New York City and near the coast.