New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport has been temporarily closed due to heavy snow, ice and harsh winds in the area, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The airport, which suspended operations shortly before 11am local time (1600 GMT), was expected to reopen later in the eening, FAA officials said. Flights at La Guardia were also halted.
The temporary closures came as high winds and heavy snow barrelled into the US Northeast, shutting schools and government offices, leaving tens of thousands without power and snarling travel. Thousands of flights were cancelled, snow plows and salt trucks were omnipresent on roads and highways, and commuters who braved the storm to head in to their jobs hoped they would be able to make it home safely as the storm intensified later in the day.
Blizzard warnings were in place along the coast from North Carolina to Maine, with the National Weather Service forecasting winds as high as 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour) that may bring down tree limbs and knock out power.
More than a foot (30 cm) of snow was forecast for Boston and coastal areas in northern New England.
The storm is the product of a rapid plunge in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters are referring to as bombogenesis or a “bomb cyclone,” which brings fast, heavy snowfall and high winds.
The wintry weather has been blamed for at least 13 deaths over the past few days, including three fatalities in North Carolina traffic accidents and three in Texas due to cold.
More than 3,300 U.S. airline flights were cancelled ahead of the storm‘s arrival in the Northeast on Thursday. At New York‘s three major airports – including JFK – and Boston‘s Logan International, as many as three out of four flights were called off, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Passenger train operator Amtrak was running reduced service in the Northeast, while mass-transit systems in major metropolitan areas, including New York and Boston, remained open.
“I have a big meeting today, so I had to go in. If I didn‘t, I probably would have stayed home,” Ann Gillard, 24, said as she waited for a subway in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to take her into the downtown Boston office where she works as a consultant.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority invested extensively in equipment to remove snow and keep tracks from freezing after extensive disruptions during the winter of 2015, when Boston got about 9 feet (2.74 meters) of snow. But Ms Gillard said her commute typically goes “not that well” in inclement weather.
“My plan is to leave at 4, right after my meeting, and, hopefully, it will be OK,” she said, adding that her backup plan was to “walk home, probably. It‘s not that cold, it‘ll just be snow.”
In the Southeast, historic cities saw their heaviest snowfall in nearly 30 years on Wednesday, according to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alan Reppert. Charleston, South Carolina, received 5.3 inches (13.46 cm) of accumulation, within an inch of its record, while Tallahassee, Florida saw its first measurable snow since 1989.
Federal government offices delayed opening for two hours, while state officials in Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts ordered nonessential workers to stay home. In Maine, Governor Paul LePage ordered state offices closed for the day.
The snowstorm brought a break in extremely cold weather that has gripped much of the region since Christmas, frozen part of Niagara Falls, played havoc with public works and impeded firefighting in places where temperatures barely broke 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.7 Celsius).
Some 45,000 homes and businesses in the Northeast were without power early on Thursday, though that number was expected to rise as the storm intensifies across the region.
That raised fears that people would be left without power and heat on Friday and during the weekend when temperatures are forecast to drop sharply.
“We can handle snow,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. “It‘s snow plus the wind which is going to cause the trouble today. The wind is going to be high all through the day.”
Schools were ordered closed in New York, many parts of New Jersey, Boston and elsewhere throughout the region.
The bombogenesis phenomenon occurs when a storm‘s barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. As a result, the accumulation of snow and winds intensifies, which can cause property damage and power outages.