PHILADELPHIA — A slow-moving winter storm packing heavy, wet snow and potentially flooding rain spread over the Northeast on Thursday, disrupting air traffic and closing schools. Utility companies braced for possible widespread power outages overnight due to high winds and toppled trees.
The strongest wind and heaviest snow was forecast for late Thursday and early Friday, with a foot or more of snow and high winds expected in parts of Pennsylvania, into New Jersey and New York and up to parts of New England.
Parts of western Maine received nearly a foot a snow, while Philadelphia received a dusting. About 9 inches of snow fell in New York City, where a man was killed by a falling snow-laden tree branch in Central Park — one of at least three deaths being blamed on the storm.
In parts of southern and mid-coastal Maine more than 3 inches of rain had fallen, and forecasters said some areas could get more than 7 inches. The Presumpscot River in Westbrook was expected to crest at 9 feet over flood stage by Friday afternoon.
Several major roads were closed in the flood-prone New Hampshire town of Goffstown, police said, and slight flooding along the Piscataquog River had water creeping toward nearby houses. Residents were told to prepare for possible evacuation.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at major East Coast airports.
The latest blast of winter was expected to linger more than 24 hours, meaning more headaches Friday. More snow is predicted for much of the region Saturday, too.
The National Weather Service put much of the East Coast under wind advisories and warnings until 7 a.m. Friday. The agency warned that winds could blow steadily between 20 and 30 mph in some areas, with gusts of 55 mph or higher in coastal and mountainous areas.
Even coastal New England, which was seeing rain but nothing like the 18 inches of snow expected in some parts of northern New Jersey and upstate New York, was under coastal flood watches.
While forecasters can predict the snow totals and what that will mean — slippery roads, a snow day for the kids — it's trickier to know whether winds might create havoc.
"Your tree may fall down; your neighbor's may not," said Kristina Pydynowski, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, a private forecasting company in State College, Pa.
She said dense, wet snow weighing down trees would make it more likely for strong winds to knock them down. And power will probably be hardest to restore in areas where heavy snow keeps repair crews at bay.
In upstate New York, a storm that hit the area with up to 2 feet of snow Wednesday left some 150,000 homes and businesses without power. About 49,000 utility customers remained without power late Thursday, most in the Hudson Valley.
Vermont had more than 10,000 outages. Nearly 4,900 utility customers in New Jersey were without electricity and there were about 2,000 customers without power throughout Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jack Lewis said National Guard forces rescued dozens of high school students on a ski trip in Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania when their buses got stuck on Route 374. The 70 students and chaperones were taken to a Red Cross center in Uniondale, and no injuries were reported
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation banned motorcycles, recreation vehicles and commercial traffic on interstates 380 and 84 — with the exceptions of school buses and tow trucks responding to accidents. There was also a tractor-trailer ban on the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension.
After dropping his load of New York City trash at a landfill in Seneca Falls, N.Y., truck driver Carlos Quintero, 62, was heading back to the city on Interstate 380 in northeastern Pennsylvania when he lost control of his rig and it jackknifed.
For a few heart-stopping moments, Quintero thought he was going to plunge down a steep, 30-foot embankment. But the guardrail had just enough stopping power.
"I thought I go all the way down the hill," said Quintero, of Haddonfield, N.J. "It happened so fast I can't do nothing."
Traffic backed up for several miles as crews worked to free the big rig. The highway reopened after about 90 minutes.
Some road conditions worsened Thursday night. Trucks got stuck on Interstate 81 near Scranton, Pa., and part of Interstate 84 was closed at the Pennsylvania-New York state line due to a jackknifed tractor-trailer. In New Jersey, dozens of accidents were reported and speeds limits were reduced.
About 19 inches of snow was reported in Pocono Summit, Pa., and 7½ inches in Allentown. In western Pennsylvania, eight inches of snow fell in Farmington, Fayette County, where a peak wind gust of 56 mph was reported.
The fifth of an inch of snow that fell in Pittsburgh by early afternoon was enough to break the city's record for the snowiest month since record keeping began in 1884.
In snow-weary Philadelphia, this winter had set a seasonal record of more than 70 inches of snow even before the first flakes fell. The city and New Jersey had only recently finished cleaning up from the two blizzards that deposited more than 3 feet of snow a few weeks ago.
In New Jersey, snowfall ranged from 3 inches in Atlantic City to about 18 inches in the parts of Passaic and Sussex counties in the north.
Airlines canceled hundreds of flights across the Northeast. Officials at Philadelphia International Airport said nearly one-fifth of the flights scheduled there for the day had been scratched. The prediction of strong winds was the main reason, said airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.
Thousands of schools across the region either closed or let out early. New York State Police attributed two traffic deaths to the weather.
In Allentown, Pa., 52-year-old Jim Yourgal put on knee-high snow boots and trudged three miles to his job as a valet at an orthopedic center. He figured he wouldn't be driving home in a foot of snow. His dedication was no big deal, he said.
"What else am I going to do, read a book at home? I can do that on the weekend," he said.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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