Winter storm wreaks havoc on air travel, brings brutal cold to Northeast


Manhattan, seen on Friday after the snowstorm. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A winter storm shrouded much of the Northeast in snow and and brutal cold Thursday night and Friday, leading to thousands of delayed or canceled flights, massive travel problems and at least two deaths.

More than 2,700 flights had been canceled and another 5,600 delayed by 5:30 p.m. on Friday, according to FlightAware.

The heaviest impact was felt at several key hubs, which could lead to ripple effects impacting travelers nationwide. More than 1,000 flights to or from the three New York area airports (LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International and John F. Kennedy International) have already been canceled, along with another 800 delayed flights at those locations.

Snowfall totals varied wildly across the New York region. Six inches of snow fell in Central Park, with slightly higher numbers reported at LaGuardia (6.9 inches) and John F. Kennedy (6.6 inches) airports and much higher totals in areas like the Bronx (11.6 inches in Bedford Park) and Queens (10.8 inches in South Ozone Park). The snow closed schools, shuttered major roadways like the Long Island Expressway, snarled bus service and suspended garbage and recycling collection in the city.

At Philadelphia International Airport, which recorded 9 inches of snow, more than 475 flights had been canceled and hundreds more delayed. Philadelphia’s school systems were closed, and speed restrictions had been placed on numerous roads during the early hours of the morning commute.


Sledding near the left field wall of Fenway Park in Boston on Thursday. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

Boston’s Logan International Airport had more than 190 flights canceled. Boston saw the largest accumulations of any major city in the Northeast, with nearly 14 inches of snow falling there. (The snow totals elsewhere in that region were even higher, with Boxford, Mass., about 30 miles to the north, logging 23 inches of snow.) The city was also hit by an arctic cold that dropped the temperature to 3 degrees as of 6 a.m., with the wind chill pushing that to minus 20 degrees.

These flight delays followed considerable headaches on Thursday, as travelers endured similar cancellations and delays stemming from snow that coated the Midwest and the looming Northeast storm. As a result, many people heading back from holiday trips may have run into mounting problems that could delay them into the weekend.

Amtrak is operating Northeast Regional and Acela trains at a reduced frequency between Boston and Washington on Friday due to the snow, another potential issue for travelers. The rail agency announced Friday afternoon that it plans to operate nearly all of its scheduled Acela and Northeast Regional trains on Saturday, though it warned riders to expect minor delays stemming from the weather.

Flights through the Washington area’s three airports (National, Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International) were also snarled, with more than 340 cancellations reported.


Tourists play in the snow near the Washington Monument on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Washington region woke up to a biting cold and saw between 2 and 5 inches of snow, according to the Capital Weather Gang. National Airport saw 1.9 inches of snow, extending the streak of not breaking the 2-inch barrier, while some spots to the north and west of the District saw 4 inches or more.

The snow and frigid cold may have contributed to a slow morning commute, with several Metro trains having issues that a spokesman said might have been weather-related, and buses delayed by unplowed side streets and downed power lines. Federal workers were given the option for unscheduled leave or telework and many schools and offices are closed, which may be keeping lots of people out of the cold and hunkered down inside. For those people, though, power outages were an issue overnight and into the morning.

Of course, just because the snow moves on doesn’t mean the problems quickly go away. Flakes finally stopped falling on Chicago after nearly two full days, but more than 480 flights at O’Hare and Midway airports were canceled on Friday. Planes were stranded on the tarmac at Midway for hours overnight, capping off a day filled with delays for travelers heading to or from Chicago.

This post has been updated to note the latest flight cancellation numbers and Amtrak’s plans for Saturday. Last update: 5:30 p.m.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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