Last-minute shoppers cleared grocery shelves and raided snowblower dealers Friday along the U.S. East Coast ahead of a storm expected to drop heavy, fast-falling snow on some of the nation’s biggest metro areas, including Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Officials from Virginia to Massachusetts rushed to declare snow emergencies, impose parking bans and restrict travel in advance of wet snow anticipated to fall as fast as 5 inches per hour.
The storm threatened blizzard conditions, high winds and coastal flooding in some areas, along with punishing cold behind it that could leave many people shivering amid power outages. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights in advance.
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 fuss with storms. I know in a couple of days, we’re going to be free and clear. No need to panic,” the 51-year-old Cranston resident said, flashing some New England stoicism as he unloaded his groceries.
Regional supermarket giant Stop & Shop pleaded with customers to practice restraint, warning that staffing and supply woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic will mean barer shelves and longer checkout lines.
“We ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” the grocery chain said in a statement.
Airlines canceled about 1,300 U.S. flights Friday and more than 3,100 on Saturday. More than 90% of Saturday schedules at Boston’s Logan Airport and New York’s LaGuardia were scrubbed, according to FlightAware.
Amtrak canceled or limited weekend train service along its busy corridor from Washington to Boston.
Snow began falling Friday evening in parts of Appalachia and was expected to start later in the Carolinas.
The system was expected to intensify as a nor’easter and bring the snow Saturday up into New England, where forecasters warned of up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) and wind gusts as high as 60 mph (96 kph). Some isolated spots could see nearly 3 feet (1 meter) of snow.
Officials warned of whiteout conditions. The common refrain from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state executives: “Just stay off the roads.”
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan mobilized the state National Guard, with parts of the state’s Eastern Shore expecting up to a foot of snow. Washington could see 1 to 3 inches.
In Virginia, where a blizzard this month stranded hundreds of motorists for hours on Interstate 95, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said officials had already begun positioning resources in anticipation of toppled trees, power outages and possible tidal flooding.
Similar weather was expected up to the Philadelphia and New York City areas. Seaside communities from the Jersey Shore to suburban Long Island and southeastern Connecticut could see higher snowfall rates and stronger winds than the big cities.
About 1,800 snowplows were ready for deployment in New York City, and workers were already spreading salt on hundreds of miles of streets ahead of the storm, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said.
Some New England officials fretted about a shortage of snowplow drivers.
Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said Friday his staffing is down about 30% this weekend because of COVID-19 and other issues.
The state expects to have more than 600 plow and sanding trucks out along with additional contractors, but with anticipated snowfall rates of 5 inches an hour, it might not be enough, he said.
“It depends on the length of the storm,” Giulietti said. “Because these people have to keep circling and going back out on the routes.”
Across the Northeast, the shelf-clearing rush for bread, eggs, milk and other staples was well underway Friday at grocery stores.
At the Star Market in Cambridge, Marc Rudkowski was among those practically giddy at the prospect of a weekend snowed in. 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’s going to love it. He’s a snow dog,” Rudkowski said.
In Maine, where a blizzard warning was issued, Rick Tucker kept busy as customers bought generators, snowblowers, shovels, ice melt, lanterns and other essentials Friday at Maine Hardware in Portland.
“It sounds like it’s going to be a big one,” the store president said. “We haven’t had one of those for a while. It’s going to be fun.”