A powerful winter storm packing heavy snow and high winds has pummeled the United States East Coast, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights as severe weather alerts were sounded across the region of nearly 70 million people.
With blizzard warnings in effect, cities including New York and Boston bore the brunt of the storm on Saturday morning, but the far-reaching system also hit the mid-Atlantic.
Freeze alerts were raised as far south as Florida, where the National Weather Service (NWS) warned of “scattered to isolated falling iguanas from trees” as plunging temperatures temporarily paralysed the large lizards, which can weigh up to 20 pounds (9kg).
Salt machines and snowploughs crawled along the streets of New York, where as much as 4 inches (10cm) of snow had fallen by Saturday morning.
Mayor Eric Adams urged New York residents to stay at home, tweeting a video of him walking outside in the Bronx borough.
“It’s a good day to stay home if you don’t have to go out!,” he said.
On the ground in the Bronx. It’s a good day to stay home if you don’t have to go out! pic.twitter.com/mFEqJpQpq0
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) January 29, 2022
On Saturday, more than 3,500 flights were cancelled travelling within, into or out of the US, according to flight tracker FlightAware, and 847 flights have already been cancelled for Sunday.
Cancellations on Friday totalled more than 1,450.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from New York City, said some public transport had been suspended.
“Right now, here in New York City, it is negative nine degrees Celsius. The subway system is still running here. But a lot of trains and buses and other sort of public transportation been put on hold,” he added.
Elizondo said weather experts said there were fears of coastal flooding if the storm continues, something that was already taking place in southern New Jersey.
The NWS warned of “dangerous blizzard conditions” along portions of the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, with predicted snowfall accumulations of more than 2 feet (61cm) in the area around Boston.
The snowfall rate would range from 2-4 inches (5-10cm) per hour, and strong winds would cause “scattered power outages”.
“Expect whiteout conditions and nearly impossible travel at times,” the service said.
The governors of New York and New Jersey declared a state of emergency, while Boston Mayor Michelle Wu declared a snow emergency.
“It is going to get quite ugly out there,” she said in an early-morning television interview from City Hall.
“This is going to be a historic storm.”
Massachusetts residents had rushed on Friday to buy groceries, as well as snow- and ice-melting pellets to help keep their sidewalks and driveways clear.
By early Saturday morning, Boston Public Works said 500 snowploughs were already hard at work on the city streets.
The storm will produce extremely cold temperatures with dangerous wind chills Saturday night into Sunday morning, the NWS said.
“Get home safely tonight, remain home over the weekend, avoid any unnecessary travel,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement, singling out Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley for particularly deep snow.
She also urged people who had to travel to fill their car fuel tanks and keep supplies such as ice scrapers, blankets and water in their vehicles.
The NWS eastern region reported on Friday that the storm was expected to intensify rapidly over the next 24 hours, a meteorological event sometimes referred to as a “bomb cyclone”.
The blizzard comes on the heels of a similar winter storm that blanketed a swath of Eastern North America, from Georgia to Canada, just two weeks ago, cutting power to thousands of homes and also disrupting thousands of flights.