Boston/New York - The latest in a series of winter storms hit the United States on Wednesday, threatening to drop up to a foot (30 cm) of snow in central New England, snarling travel and eating into supplies of salt needed to keep roads clear.
Officials in New York and New Jersey warned they were beginning to run short of the rock salt used by road crews to keep ice from building up on highways and local roads, the result of the season's repeated storms.
“We have a salt shortage for some parts of the state, primarily New York City and the Long Island area, because there have been so many storms this season already,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on a conference call. “The state does have a significant amount of salt on hand, we'll be shipping that salt around the state.”
Neighboring New Jersey reported a similar shortage.
“We've had so many storms, one after another, that it definitely has put a very significant demand on salt,” said Joe Dee, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
“Our supplies are dwindling,” Dee added. “We have plenty for this storm. We're looking at some weekend storms and we have enough for that, but we're going to start to get low. We need some good weather and a chance to replenish our supplies.”
As of January 26, New Jersey had spent $60 million on snow removal, putting it in place to break the record of $62.5 million spent last year, Dee said. Connecticut was on pace to exceed its $30 million budget, but had the means to continue funding snow removal, a Department of Transportation spokesman said.
New York City has spread some 346,000 tons of rock salt on its roads so far this year, almost the total for last winter, said Belinda Mager, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Sanitation. The city has spent $57.3 million on snow removal so far this winter, putting it on track to top last year's spending.
Most U.S. states and major cities do not try to set an upper limit on spending for snow removal, but authorize agencies to spend what is necessary and count on legislatures to cover the cost.
“Before I became governor, I never saw winter in budgetary terms, but now I do,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told local WBZ radio, adding that he was counting on lawmakers to fund the state's rising snow-removal and salt tab.
Some commercial suppliers have run out of rock salt.
“We're just continuing to get crushed by these storms. With major rock salt shortages, it's starting to get scary out there,” said Anthony Scorzetti, a hardware and paint manager for Braen Supply in Wanaque, New Jersey. “I have people calling from all parts of the East Coast looking for it, and we just have nothing.”
Heavy show was expected from the Great Lakes through New England, with freezing rain dominating south of New York. In the Boston area, snow was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cm) per hour, making roads treacherous and causing schools to be closed.
“The worst will be along the higher terrain, around central New England,” said Benjamin Sipprell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Southern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire around the border with Massachusetts could see up to around a foot (30 cm) of snow.”
By mid-morning, 9.5 inches (24 cm) of snow had fallen in Burlington, in central Connecticut, 9 inches (23 cm) in Southbridge, in southern Massachusetts, and 12.5 inches (32 cm) in Newburgh, New York, north of New York City, according to the National Weather Service.
Connecticut's governor urged people to stay off icy roads.
“With heavy snow falling across the state and a mix of sleet and freezing rain on the way, I am asking residents to avoid unnecessary travel,” said Dannel Malloy. “If you can stay home or work from home, please do.”
Almost 900,000 homes and businesses were without power in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast early Wednesday following severe snow and ice storms overnight, according to local power companies.
The hardest hit state was Pennsylvania with over 640 000 customers without power on Wednesday morning.
Other hard-hit states include Maryland, West Virginia, Arkansas, New Jersey, Kentucky, Delaware, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana and New York.
In New York City, schools were open despite the weather. In Brooklyn, parents were walking their kids to class as crews used electric snowblowers to keep sidewalks clear.
Renita Stefanec dropped off her 7-year-old for class with her 5-year-old in tow.
“It's sloppy, it's messy, but if you live close it's doable,” she said of the trek. “If it's too bad out, they just don't come. They keep the kids home. But if you're close, it's doable.”
Even with all the bad weather this winter, schools have stayed open, something Stefanec thinks is a good idea.
“I prefer them to come to school. Because if they don't, they take it away from vacation days.”