Snow and cold weather... in the Northeast... in January. Surely, such an unprecedented development in the New Normal should predictably justify explaining away at least a 1% miss of Q1 GDP (which when inventory destocking is factored in, will likely come in negative). Still, 20 inches of snow dropping in one night is somewhat abnormal, especially when one adds a blast of cold air to accompany them, and explains why even the area major airport hubs - JFK in New York and Logan in Boston - are all closed currently, while key NYC transportation hubs, I-84 and the LIE, closed at midnight and won't open until 8 am.
A massive winter storm dumped 20 inches of snow on parts of New England and looked set to cripple much of the Midwest and Northeast on Friday as millions faced dangerously cold temperatures. Sub-zero wind chills have arrived with the storm, and the biting wind and blowing snow have shut down interstates and airports alike.
John F. Kennedy Airport in New York is officially closed, and Boston's Logan International is effectively shutdown, as well.
Interstate 84 in New York and the Long Island Expressway, closed at midnight as the storm roared in, will remain so until 8 a.m.
Snowfall reports varied widely, with New York City receiving 7 inches, Baltimore some 3 to 6 inches, Philadelphia roughly 5 inches, Hartford 6 to 10 inches and Boston as much as 14 inches.
Some 20 inches have already fallen on other parts of Massachusetts, according to The Weather Channel lead meteorologist Michael Palmer. Boxford, Mass., northwest of Boston, reported 21 inches.
Winter weather and wind-chill advisories were in effect in at least 22 states, stretching from Chicago through the New York tri-state region into New England and affecting an area home to more than 100 million people.
The soundbites are coming in fast and furious:
"It's going to be brutal," Weather Channel coordinating meteorologist Tom Moore said. "People that are vulnerable are really going to be hurting."
The high temperature in New York City will be in the teens on Friday during the day and drop to between 5 and 8 degrees in the evening, with the wind chill making it feel well below zero.
"This is nothing to be trifled with," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "We have learned too well over the past few years the power of Mother Nature. We have seen the damage that has been done."
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick dismissed all state workers at 3 p.m. on Thursday, and urged residents to minimize time outside and be aware of frostbite and hypothermia symptoms. "That is a very, very dangerous set of circumstances," he said.
There's the snow, and then there's the cold...
Temperatures from upstate New York to Maine were below zero, and wind chills — the "feels like" effect — were minus-30 in some spots. Across the Northeast, residents were fretting about the blast of bitter cold.
“I think I’m more concerned about the terrible cold Friday night rather than the storm itself," David Ball of Scituate, Mass., which was facing coastal flooding, told NBC affiliate WHDH. "Hopefully the power stays on."
The weather was affecting air travel, with some 1,350 flights being cancelled Friday on top of more than 2,000 on Thursday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.
Chicago will struggle to get above minus 8 and by Monday morning the wind will make it feel like it's 40 below zero there. In Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers host an NFL playoff game Sunday evening, the low temperature could reach minus 18.
"Even Atlanta's northern suburbs could be in single digits by Monday night," Moore said.
Larry Wittmers, a hypothermia expert at the University of Minnesota-Duluth medical school, said it's not necessarily the coldest areas that face the most peril.
"True hypothermia cases turn up more often in more southern regions because people are not prepared and don't know what to do," Wittmers said.
... And when adding the two, bad things happen:
And even though record snowfall is not expected, the cold could make roads even more hazardous because the snow-melting salt that homeowners and road crews use loses effectiveness at between 10 and 20 degrees.
To give plows time to work and guard against vehicles getting stranded, New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and closed several major roads, including the Nassau and Suffolk county sections of the Long Island Expressway from midnight to 5 a.m. New Jersey also declared a state of emergency.
"As this winter storm unfolds, bringing heavy snow and high winds to many parts of the state, I strongly urge all New Yorkers to exercise caution, avoid travel and stay indoors," Cuomo said.
In other words: one of those truly rare events - a real winter storm. In January. And in other news, just once we would like to see the inclement weather blame the weak economy for a change...