US cold weather chaos kills at least 18 people

New York declares state of emergency as temperatures are set to plunge further

With the east coast of the United States currently experiencing an unprecedented cold snap, forecasters have warned that a "bomb cyclone", an extreme winter storm, could be on the way. Video: David Dunne

 

Street crews dug out snow-clogged roads across the US northeast on Friday after a powerful blizzard, with temperatures set to plunge further during a brutal cold spell that has already killed at least 18 people.

From Baltimore to Caribou, Maine, workers battled to clear snow and ice as wind chills were forecast to fall as low as –40 degrees Celsius in some areas after sundown, according to the National Weather Service. Wind chill describes the combined effect of wind and low temperatures on bare skin.

In the latest fatality blamed on the weather, a vehicle slid off an icy road early on Friday in North Charleston, South Carolina, killing a pedestrian, city officials said.

“THE DANGERS ARE REAL,” the officials warned in a Twitter message. “Huge patches of ice all over the city. Stay at home.”

On Friday, Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, declared a state of emergency for the city and neighbouring counties.

The fierce cold will reach from New England to the midwest and down to the Carolinas, forecasters warned, adding that low-temperature records could be broken across the region in the coming days.

In much of New England on Friday, the highs will reach only into single digits or teens Fahrenheit, with intense wind chills, said Dan Pydynowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

“It can be very dangerous,” Pydynowski said. “Any kind of exposed skin can freeze in a couple of minutes.”

The extreme cold also raised the risk that road salt would not work to melt ice, Massachusetts transportation officials said.

Utility companies across the east of the country worked to repair downed power lines as about 31,000 customers remained without electricity early on Friday, down from almost 80,000 the day before. Most of the outages were in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Heavy snowfalls

The blizzard that swept in on Thursday with winds gusts of more than 113km/h dumped 30cm or more of snow throughout the northeast, including Boston and and Maine, before ending early on Friday. Parts of New Jersey were buried under nearly 46cm of powder.

The harsh conditions were powered by a rapid plunge in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters called a bombogenesis, or a “bomb cyclone”.

The weather has been blamed for at least 18 deaths in the past few days, including four in North Carolina traffic incidents and three in Texas.

Schools in Boston and Baltimore cancelled classes on Friday while those in New York were open. Schools in Newark, New Jersey, opened two hours later than normal.

Commuter railways serving New York and Boston’s suburbs reported extensive delays as they worked to repair frozen equipment and clear snow-covered tracks.

Thursday’s storm caused a 0.9m tidal surge that flooded the area around Boston’s historic Long Wharf with icy seawater. Firefighters used an inflatable raft to rescue one motorist from a car submerged up to its door handles, Boston fire commissioner Joseph Finn told reporters.

Communities outside Boston, including Scituate, also experienced extensive flooding.

New York’s John F Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports resumed flights on Friday after closing during whiteout conditions the day before. More than 1,200 US flights had been cancelled by midday on Friday; the most cancellations were at the three major airports in the New York area and at Boston Logan International Airport.

Nearly 500 members of the National Guard were activated to assist with the emergency response along the east coast, including 200 in New York state, authorities said.

On Wednesday, the same blizzard brought historic cities in the southeastern US their heaviest snowfall in three decades. - Reuters and Guardian service