Last-minute shoppers cleared supermarket shelves and raided snowplow dealers along the US East Coast on Friday ahead of a storm that is expected to drop heavy snow in some areas. largest metropolitan areas in the country, including Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Officials from Virginia to Massachusetts scrambled to declare snow emergencies, impose parking bans and restrict travel ahead of a system that is expected to drop wet snow at rates of up to 5 inches per hour. The storm threatened blizzard conditions and coastal flooding in some areas.
Merrick McCormack was among hundreds who packed a Shaw’s supermarket in Warwick, Rhode Island, with the entire state under a blizzard warning and officials mobilizing more than 500 snowplows.
“I don’t worry about storms. I know that in a couple of days we will be free and clear. No need to panic,” the 51-year-old Cranston resident said, displaying some New England stoicism as he unloaded his purchases.
Regional supermarket giant Stop & Shop pleaded with customers to practice restraint, warning that staffing and supply problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic will mean empty shelves and longer checkout lines.
“We ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” the supermarket chain said in a statement.
By noon Friday, airlines had canceled more than 1,000 flights in the US and had already canceled about 2,500 scheduled for Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware. The most affected airports included Chicago, New York and Boston.
Amtrak has canceled or limited weekend train service along its busy corridor from Washington to Boston.
The storm is forecast to begin in parts of the Carolinas and Appalachians on Friday night, according to the National Weather Service.
The system was expected to intensify as a northeasterly storm and bring snow Saturday to New England, where forecasters warned of up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) and wind gusts up to 60 mph (96 kph). Some isolated spots could see almost 3 feet (1 meter) of snow.
Authorities warned of near-blackout conditions.
The common refrain from New York Governor Kathy Hochul and other state executives: “Just stay off the roads.”
In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan mobilized the state’s National Guard, and parts of the state’s eastern seaboard were expecting up to a foot of snow. Washington was able to see 1 to 3 inches of snow.
In Virginia, where a blizzard this month stranded hundreds of motorists for hours on Interstate 95, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said officials had already begun placing resources in anticipation of downed trees, power outages and possible tidal flooding.
Similar weather was expected as far as the Philadelphia and New York City areas. Coastal communities from the Jersey Shore to suburban Long Island and southeastern Connecticut could see higher snowfall rates and stronger winds than large cities.
About 1,800 snowplows were ready to deploy in New York City, and workers were already spreading salt on hundreds of miles of streets before the storm, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said.
Some New England officials were concerned about a shortage of snowplow drivers.
Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said Friday that his staff is down 30% this weekend due to COVID-19 and other issues.
The state hopes to have more than 600 plowing and sanding trucks along with additional contractors, but with anticipated snowfall rates of 5 inches per hour, it might not be enough, he said.
“It depends on the duration of the storm,” Giulietti said. “Because these people have to keep going around and getting back on the roads.”
Across the Northeast, a rush to clear the shelves of bread, eggs, milk and other staples was on Friday at grocery stores.
At Cambridge’s Star Market, Marc Rudkowski was among those practically giddy at the prospect of a snowy weekend. The 28-year-old machine learning engineer stocked up on French bread and wine, as well as balloons and toys for his puppy, who turned 1 on Friday.
“He will love it. It’s a snow dog,” Rudkowski said.
In Maine, where a blizzard warning has been issued, Rick Tucker kept busy as customers shopped for generators, snowplows, shovels, ice melters, flashlights and other essentials Friday at Maine Hardware in Portland.
“Looks like it’s going to be big,” said the store’s president. “We haven’t had one of those for a while. It’s going to be fun.”
Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela in New York; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Va.; Wayne Parry in Point Pleasant, New Jersey; Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; Steve LeBlanc in Cambridge, Massachusetts; William J. Kole in Warwick, Rhode Island; David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; and airline writer David Koenig.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.