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Friday, January 3, 2014

Winter Storm Wallops Northeast, Disrupts Travel

A winter storm that worked its from the Midwest dumped more than two feet of snow in parts of the Northeast overnight.

23 inches have been reported in Boxford, Massachusetts, just north of Boston.

Stiff winds and bitter cold make going outside dangerous.

It was -8 degrees Fahrenheit in Burlington, Vermont, this morning, with a wind chill of -29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here & Now is joined by meteorologist David Epstein who discusses the forecast and how to stay safe in the bitter cold. 

Meanwhile, states of emergency have been declared in New York and New Jersey, and highways in New York and Pennsylvania have been temporarily shutdown.

Thousands of flights across the country have been canceled, and Amtrak is running trains on all of its Northeast lines, but on a weekend schedule.

Bart Jansen of USA Today for the latest on the storm and its effects on travelers.

Guests

  • David Epstein, meteorologist.
  • Bart Jansen, transportation reporter for USA Today. He tweets @ganjansen.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

A judge has turned back Florida Governor Rick Scott's requirement that welfare recipients get drug-tested. Turns out, they were testing positive far less than the general population. But the court shot down the requirement, because they said it was unconstitutional. In a few minutes, what does that ruling mean for Florida's always interesting political scene?

CHAKRABARTI: But first, people are still bundled up and digging out from the first major snowstorm of the year, which dropped snow and pulled temperatures down to below-zero levels in about a third of the United States. It's left 11 people dead, including a worker near Philadelphia who was killed by a falling pile of road salt and a woman with Alzheimer's, who froze to death in western New York.

Two feet of snow fell in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where town manager Robin Crosbie told us that wind and flooding are her concerns now.

ROBIN CROSBIE: The challenge, of course, is as soon as you clear roads, the wind blows the snow back in. And so, it's basically keeping abreast of the blowing snow. And we have astronomically high tides at this time.

CHAKRABARTI: Ten inches fell in parts of New York City, and newly inaugurated Mayor Bill de Blasio trumpeted how well hundreds of city snow plows and salt-spreaders did by mid-morning.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: And every New Yorker should be grateful when you hear this: 100 percent of primary roads have been plowed, 92 percent of secondary roads, 93 percent of tertiary roads. So this is an extraordinary level of performance under tough conditions.

CHAKRABARTI: Meanwhile this morning, Kennedy Airport was open, but flights were suspended due to zero visibility and high winds - so, a lot going on weather-related across the country. Meteorologist David Epstein joins us via Skype. And, David, what's to come in the next couple of days?

DAVID EPSTEIN: Well, what's amazing is that as cold as it is, we're watching another blast of cold air that's going to enter the upper Midwest and head straight for Chicago, here, coming up Sunday night through Wednesday.

CHAKRABARTI: I mean, I'm seeing that the National Weather Service says the Chicago area wind chill Monday and Tuesday could sink to 45 degrees below zero?

EPSTEIN: Yeah. Those are very dangerous wind chills. You know, folks that are homeless, people that need to work outside, that stuff can freeze flesh in a matter of minutes. And Chicago may stay below zero from Sunday night, all the way through Wednesday. And the last time it did something like that, staying below zero so long, was 17 years ago. So nearly in a generation since we've seen this kind of cold.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. And elsewhere in the country, the National Weather Service recorded lows of 10 below in Fort Wayne, Indiana this morning, the coldest mark for this day ever in Fort Wayne. And I also see that in Minnesota, the governor has cancelled all public schools for Monday, because high temperatures in Minnesota could be below zero. How long do we expect this cold weather to stay? I mean, you said till early next week. Is it going to be accompanied by more snow?

EPSTEIN: Well, we're definitely going to see the cold weather enter the country early next week. The good news - for at least the East Coast - is the next storm that moves up ahead of the cold blast will be in the form of rain. So places like New York, Philadelphia, Boston will all see some rain with the next storm. Then the blast that we're talking about in the Midwest will go right to the East Coast. So, New York City on Tuesday, Boston on Tuesday, you'll all be cold - Philadelphia, Washington.

And those high temperatures you're talking about, they could set some records never before seen. Minneapolis, for example, if they stay below minus 20 for a high, that would set an all-time record for the coldest day ever, set back way back in 1888. So this is some unprecedented cold some of us have never seen.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Well, in addition to the cold, right now, there's still a lot of states and municipalities dealing with snow. And because of the cold, I understand that salt, for example, isn't doing the job it's supposed to do to melt away all the snow.

EPSTEIN: That's right. You know, you think about the ocean. It doesn't freeze at 32. There's salt in it, so it freezes at a colder temperature, down in the 20s. And then we get products like salt and calcium, things that are used on the roads. And those only work to a certain temperature, depending on exactly what chemical the municipality is using, depends on exactly what temperature will freeze. But once you get down towards zero, 10, 20 below, almost no product's going to work. So the roads become even more treacherous when it does snow.

CHAKRABARTI: And I think about that elderly woman we talked about in western New York who died due to exposure outdoors, who had Alzheimer's. It's a good time to check in on your friends, family and neighbors, isn't it?

EPSTEIN: Yeah. You know, know your neighbor. Know your neighborhoods, especially the elderly and people that maybe just can't get around as well, a nice idea to knock on the door, ask them if they need anything, give them a call. Maybe even put a note on the door and just say, hey, I'm here if you need me. Here's my number. Some folks don't like to be bothered. But it's just nice to know that we're there for each other during this cold spell.

CHAKRABARTI: Meteorologist David Epstein. Thank you so much, David.

EPSTEIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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