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Massachusetts residents dig out after ‘bomb cyclone’ storm

At least a foot of snow fell in 9 states, from Maryland to Maine, with the heaviest amounts near the coast.

At least a foot of snow fell in 9 states from Maryland to Maine on Jan 29, and tens of thousands remained without power in Massachusetts on Jan. 30. (Video: AP/WCVB/Storyful)
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A previous version of this article had a caption that misidentified the city as Boston. The city is Quincy. This caption has been corrected.

CENTERVILLE, Mass. — Electricity was coming back online Sunday night after a winter storm with heavy snow and punishing winds pummeled swaths of the East Coast to start the weekend. Officials had urged patience while neighbors banded together to help stay warm in the frigid weather.

“The storm moved out of our region last night, but we expect to be clearing more roads … and working with our utilities throughout the day today and tomorrow,” Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said at a Sunday morning briefing.

In an update the previous evening, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said: “It’s been a very long storm. We’re not quite out of the woods yet.”

At least a foot of snow fell in nine states from Maryland to Maine, with the heaviest amounts near the coast. Amounts topping 2 feet fell over eastern Long Island, coastal Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts. Bitter cold has followed in the storm’s wake, with subzero wind chills throughout New England on Sunday.

Boston measured 23.6 inches Saturday, its snowiest January day on record and tied for its snowiest day in any month. Its two-day storm total of 23.8 inches ranks as the sixth-largest in the city’s history. For eight straight hours, the city endured a punishing combination of heavy snow, winds gusting over 35 mph and a visibility of one-quarter mile or less.

Officials said high winds contributed to the vast outages, with most in the southeastern part of the state and on Cape Cod. Power was gradually blinking back on in some places Sunday night.

State officials have called for residents to stay home if possible, but if people do need to venture out, Polito urged them to “make plans, but be patient.”

“Not all roads are cleared exactly the way they would be in normal conditions,” she said. “And if you can stay home and enjoy the day and maybe take in some football games, do that.”

The utility company Eversource said more than 1,700 crews were working to repair damage and restore power “as quickly as safely possible,” according to a news release. Eversource said it expects most of its customers without power to have it back by the end of the day Monday. More than 50,000 customers had their power restored overnight into Sunday, the company said. At the height of the storm, more than 100,000 were in the dark.

“Your patience is asked again today as snow and ice operations continue and many roads are still not completely cleared,” the state’s transportation secretary, Jamey Tesler, said during Sunday’s briefing. “As you know, the impacts of the storm are still being felt, especially by those residents and those businesses that have no power.”

In Centerville, about five miles west of Hyannis, some people put items from their freezer into bags atop the snow to keep them frozen. Nadine Kerns, 57, made sure to keep the water dripping from faucets in her 19th-century home, a former sea captain’s house still without power Sunday morning, to keep the pipes from freezing.

Her neighbors, who were shoveling out more than a foot of snow from their long driveway, said their new generator froze during the storm. They traded stories with Kerns about how they got through the night: Kerns huddled in front of her gas fireplace, while her neighbors made cup after cup of hot chocolate from a big bag of powdered dark chocolate from France.

A little later, they left a sack on Kerns’s front door. “Friends don’t let friends drink Swiss Miss,” said a text message from the neighbor, who wanted only to be described as an “Angel of Main Street.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu (D) urged residents to chip in with the recovery by shoveling snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes.

“Especially so that our young people can access bus stops, walk to school and anyone who is walking around — especially those in a wheelchair or motorized scooter — can get around,” Wu said during a Sunday briefing.

Boston City Council President Ed Flynn added that “today is also about giving back and helping those in need — and that means taking a timeout from watching a football game and helping a neighbor in need, shoveling their sidewalk, shoveling an elderly person’s sidewalk.”

Photos: Nor’easter slams East Coast with extreme snow and wind

The storm began organizing Friday offshore the Carolinas, when two disturbances along the jet stream merged over the Southeast. Forecasters had seen the storm coming for days, and the National Weather Service placed more than 75 million people under winter weather alerts from the Carolinas to Maine.

As the storm gained strength over the Gulf Stream on Friday night, it began to unleash strong winds and heavy snow on the Maryland and Delaware beaches. About a foot fell from Ocean City, Md., to Lewes, Del., by Saturday morning.

The storm rapidly intensified as it charged north off the coast of New Jersey, meeting the criteria of a “bomb cyclone,” a meteorological term for storms that strengthen with uncommon haste. The storm dumped 16 inches on Atlantic City, catapulting the city’s January snow total to the highest level on record.

Eastern Massachusetts was hit particularly hard: Several locations registered at least 30 inches, including Sharon and Stoughton, about 20 miles southwest of Boston. Numerous locations in eastern New England and the coastal Mid-Atlantic endured true blizzard conditions, defined by at least three hours of frequent 35 mph winds and restricted visibility in snow. The strongest wind gusts rocked eastern Massachusetts, with gusts clocked up to 67 mph on Nantucket and 81 mph on Cape Cod.

Snowfall totals were sharply lower in inland areas away from the coast. Philadelphia recorded just 7.5 inches. Such west-to-east snowfall variation continued further up the coast as New York’s Central Park received 7.5 inches while Islip, on Long Island, registered a whopping 24.7 inches.

The storm’s strong winds helped drive an ocean surge of over three feet into the coastline Saturday morning, causing shoreline flooding in several communities in eastern Massachusetts.

Boston appears to have entered an era with frequent blockbuster snowstorms. Records have been kept in the city since the late 1800s, but all of its 10 largest two-day snowstorms on record have occurred since 1969, and six of them since 2003.

Scientists say warmer air and ocean temperatures due to climate change increase the amount of moisture available to winter storms, potentially increasing their snow production. Ahead of Saturday’s storm, ocean temperatures along the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts were much above normal.

“This blizzard was driven by a combination of favorable meteorological conditions and a warmer Atlantic, the latter of which is a signature of global warming and likely intensified the storm above and beyond what it would have been,” Justin Mankin, assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College, wrote in an emailed statement. “Extreme snowstorms, even in the face of longer-term declines in winter snow, are entirely consistent with the effects of global warming.”

Firozi and Samenow reported from Washington.

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