A powerful winter storm blew through the region overnight, thrashing the tri-state area with a combination of intense thunderstorms, whipping winds, sleet and snow that complicated the trek to work Thursday morning and sent Sandy-wrecked Jersey shore neighborhoods scrambling to prevent further flood damage.
Forecasters are also eyeing another storm that could deliver light or moderate bands of snow to the area Saturday afternoon and evening. Most of the tri-state can expect 2 to 4 inches, with possibly higher amounts in Suffolk County and coastal areas.
On Wednesday evening, snow quickly turned to rain as temperatures rose throughout much of the area, bringing booming early morning thunderstorms with dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning usually unseen at this time of year, meteorologists say.
Flood-ravaged townships near the Jersey shore braced as high tide arrived Thursday morning, and Brick and Toms River cut off access to their barrier island communities in anticipation of rising waters.
In nearby Sea Bright, police reported rescuing one motorist whose vehicle became trapped in high waters on Ocean Avenue early Thursday.
High waters also proved problematic in Monmouth Beach. Dennis Cahill, a police spokesman, said two cars stalled on flooded local streets after drivers bypassed police barricades. Cahill said no one had to be rescued in those incidents. He said the town had expected moderate flooding from the latest storm but got "the high end of moderate." No homes were flooded, though, he said.
That was not the case in Seaside Park, where Police Chief Murphy Larkin said all bayfront homes had taken on water by late Thursday morning. He said fire companies have been going door to door checking on people in the homes, and that some of them may have to be reinspected.
Joe Mancini, mayor of Long Beach Township on Long Beach Island, said apart from "a lot of sand blown around," his community hadn't sustained any damage. But, he said, his township -- and many others near the Barrier Islands -- have become increasingly susceptible to flooding since Sandy, which is an ongoing concern. The water just keeps piling up.
In New York City, flooding didn't prove much of a concern. Precipitation in and around the five boroughs was mostly confined to rain, with Central Park and Newark, N.J., recording 1.4 inches and 1.8 inches, respectively, early Thursday amid ongoing downpours that could push those totals higher. Forceful winds made the rain whip around sideways.
The National Weather Service recorded wind gusts above 70 mph in areas like Brick and Barnegat, N.J., during the peak of the storm. In New York, gusts topped out around 50 mph.
Tens of thousands of tri-state residents lost power at some point during the storm, but outages were drastically reduced Thursday morning. By 6 a.m., Consolidated Edison was reporting fewer than 100 customers without power in New York City, while the Long Island Power Authority had less than 300 customers in the dark -- a relief for storm-ravaged communities in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Outages were mostly contained to New Jersey, where JCP&L reported 7,400 customers without power as of 6 a.m. The state's other major utility, PSE&G, had about 500 outages.
Gusty winds and some brief heavy downpours are expected to move out of the area by midmorning, and then winds will become less intense for a time and downpours will be reduced to intermittent light showers. Forecasters say the wind is expected to pick up again in the afternoon with gusts creeping back up to between 35 mph and 40 mph.
Snow wasn't much of a problem with this system, though some suburbs in New Jersey and New York north and west of the city got some accumulation. Highland Park, N.J., recorded 6 inches of snow, while Ringwood, N.J., and Suffern, N.Y., each had about 4 inches. Three inches also fell in Danbury, Conn. Winter storm warnings remain in effect for some counties north and west of the city until noon.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at the area's three major airports, forcing travelers to sleep on airport cots or on chairs, their heads resting on metal tables as they waited for news of when their flights would depart. Delays and cancellations were expected to continue throughout the day Thursday, so customers were advised to check with their carriers before heading to the airport.