US East Coast digs out after 'bomb cyclone'

New York and Boston took the brunt of the heavy weather, when more than 70 cm of snow fell in some areas

A snow plough clears snow during a blizzard in Boston, Massachusetts. Bloomberg
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US East Coast residents were digging out cars and driveways in sub-zero conditions on Sunday after a blizzard brought heavy snow, caused transport mayhem, flooded coastlines and knocked power lines down.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) urged people to “bundle up when shovelling” in freezing winds after a storm – known colloquially as a nor'easter – dumped snow from Virginia to Maine, an area that is home to 70 million people.

Cities such as New York and Boston bore the brunt of the blizzard, with snowfall of more than 70 centimetres deep in some areas. The NWS described the storm as a bomb cyclone because of its characteristic rapid drops in atmospheric pressure.

Winds gusted as fast as 134 kilometres an hour in eastern Massachusetts. More than 100,000 people were without power in the state, and the high winds that continued into Sunday made it difficult for repair crews to work on overhead lines.

Wind and waves battered North Weymouth and other towns along the Massachusetts coastline and nearby islands such as Nantucket, flooding streets with chilly water, according to videos posted on social media.

Boston business owner Jesse Ledin said the weather was “pretty nasty”. He walked his dog through huge snow drifts on Saturday, wearing ski goggles to shield his eyes from the blizzard conditions.

“It’s pretty intense with the winds getting up to [112 km] an hour,” Mr Ledin told AP.

“It’s pretty deep in spots with the wind and the snow drifts, but it’s pretty nasty out, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be driving.”

In New York, families sledged and played in the snow in Central Park, where almost 20cm of snow fell. Gritting machines and snowploughs crawled along the streets around the billboard-lit Times Square and other landmarks.

“It’s fantastic," Gonzalo Vazquez, a Spanish tourist, told AFP in Times Square.

“It’s like skiing, surrounded by lights and awesome LED screens.”

The weather may have contributed to the death of an elderly woman who was found on Saturday in a hotel car park in Uniondale, Long Island, with her car window open, a local police officer said.

More than 3,500 flights were cancelled for Saturday travelling within, into or out of the US, according to flight tracker FlightAware. More than 1,200 flights had already been cancelled for Sunday.

The NWS considers a storm a blizzard if it has snowfall or blowing snow, as well as winds of at least 56 kph that reduce visibility to 400 metres or less for at least three hours. In many areas, Saturday’s storm met those criteria.

The blizzard followed a similar winter storm that blanketed eastern North America – from Georgia to Canada – two weeks ago, cutting power to thousands of homes and disrupting thousands of flights.

Climate change, particularly the warming ocean, is likely to have intensified the storm, weather researchers said.

Much warmer ocean waters “are certainly playing a role in the strengthening of the storm system and increased moisture available for the storm,” said Jason Furtado, a University of Oklahoma meteorology professor.

Updated: January 30, 2022, 3:49 PM