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Time for Another 'Storm of the Century'
A year ago at this time, the nation endured what the National Weather Service called an "historic storm." Weeks of snow followed. In fact, Boston was still digging out some mounds of collected snow (and trash) in June. This storm turned out to be at least as bad although preparation was better and there was less early panic and less in-storm chaos. Here's how we're covering events. As usual, the latest item is on top, so read up from the bottom for context.
1/27/16, 9AM ET, WEDNESDAY
AND IN THE END ... UNITED FARES WORST OF ALL
On Monday, Ted Reed of TheStreet.com suggested that American Airlines was the "loser" in the cancellation race because it dumped the most flights from Friday to Monday. But a closer inspection of the numbers through yesterday indicates a more familiar culprit: United Airlines.
American had the most cancellations during the first three days of the storm because its Charlotte hub got hammered by ice on Friday, a full day before the snow hit the Washington-New York corridor. But Charlotte bounced back quickly and the American hub in Philadelphia was up and running quickly after the Saturday snows.
United, on the other hand, continued to cancel masses of flights on Monday and Tuesday while other airlines were back to (comparative) normal. On Monday, for example, 1,736 flights were cancelled nationwide for an industry-wide average of 7.97 percent. But United cancelled flights at a rate more than twice as high (17 percent) than the industry. Delta Air Lines cancelled less than one percent of its flights on Monday. And on Tuesday, a full 72 hours after the Saturday snow, United cancelled 6.78 percent of its flights. Industry-wide, only 821 flights were dumped for an average of just 3.98 percent. And while United scrubbed 110 flights on Tuesday, Delta cancelled none.
1/25/16, 3:15PM ET, MONDAY
REMAINS OF THE DAY
FlightStats.com says that 3,385 flights were cancelled yesterday. That's 16.5 percent of the national system on Sunday. When you tote it all up, more than 11,000 flights were cancelled for the three-day period between Friday and Sunday. Or, put another way, that's about half the schedule of a normal weekday of flights.
1/25/16, 3PM ET, MONDAY
JUST ANOTHER MANIC MONDAY
The first full business day after the storm that dumped several feet of snow in the New York-Washington Corridor and whacked the Southeast with ice has been dicey.
As I warned you, it would not be a particularly good one to fly. All of the major airports in the region are open, but the large hubs are struggling with the after-effects of snow and getting planes and crews in the right position.
Faring worst today is Newark, the United Airlines hub. More than 40 percent of the flights on EWR's schedule today have been scrubbed, according to FlightAware.com. That's a higher percentage than Washington/National or Washington/Dulles, both of which took the precaution of remaining closed yesterday to aid snow removal. Not that either IAD or DCA did great, mind you. About 35 percent of Dulles operations have dumped and about 25 percent of National's flights have been cancelled.
Elsewhere, New York/LaGuardia is also doing poorly, with about 30 percent of its flight dropped. At BWI, about 18 percent of inbound and outbound flights have been scrubbed.
By contrast, New York/JFK is doing pretty well. Only about 7 percent of its flights have been cancelled. That's especially good since it looks like Kennedy got the most snow (30.5 inches) of any airport. Also doing well: Philadelphia, which is managing to keep its cancellation rate below double digits (7 percent). Charlotte, the big American Airlines hub hobbled by ice Friday, has managed to get about 95 percent of its inbound and outbound flights off today.
Tomorrow should be leagues better for travel, but won't be anything like a normal day. FlightStats.com is already showing more than 500 cancellations tomorrow, almost all of them at Newark and Dulles. Not to put too fine a point on it, but both airports are dominated by United Airlines hubs.
1/24/16, 8:45AM ET, SUNDAY
THE BIG DIG (OUT) BEGINS
And now it begins: A long, messy clean-up after record or near-record snowstorms from New York to Washington. The snow totals are massive. You can check the specifics for the New York area here. The Washington area numbers are here.
The best way to think about this: Think tomorrow. Although FlightStats.com reports more than 500 flights already cancelled tomorrow, the system will be coming back to life on Monday. There are going to be many more delays and even more last-minute cancellations. But at least you'll have a chance.
The better option: Think Tuesday. I suspect Tuesday will be a comparatively good travel day. The key word being comparative.
FlightStats.com is reporting that nearly 4,000 flights have already been cancelled. The big losers are the three New York area airports, although there may be some limited flights tonight at JFK and LaGuardia. United says it will try to start some flights at Newark later today. Delta Air Lines may start some operations at its JFK and LaGuardia hubs later today, too. But unless you absolutely, positively must travel today, why even try? Delays will be immense, there are guaranteed to be on-the-spot cancellations and road travel to and from the airports is dicey. (New York lifted its travel ban at 7 am this morning and mass transit is slowly recovering.)
The airports at Washington/National and Washington/Dulles remain closed and no flights are expected today. BWI is struggling to cope and expect little or no flight activity there. At least one major interstate remains closed, the Washington Metro and most suburban lines remain closed and aren't expected to open today. In other words, there's nowhere to go.
Philadelphia International is essentially closed although American Airlines may try to get some service running late this afternoon and this evening.
Charlotte Airport, which was whacked on Friday with ice and snow, is slowly returning to normal. And yes, football fans, the Cardinals-Panther game in Charlotte will be played.
When you look at snowfall totals all you can say is "Wow!" The numbers are simply astounding
In the New York area, there was 30.5 inches at JFK, 28.1 inches at Newark and 27.9 inches at LaGuardia. At Philadelphia International, it was 20.8 inches. In the Washington area, it was 29.2 inches at BWI, 28.3 inches at Dulles and 17.8 inches at National Airport. (That last number is controversial as some experts insist the snow has been mismeasured, according to this Washington Post article.)
FlightStats.com reported 3,806 cancellations nationwide, which was 21.6 percent of scheduled operations.
And if you somehow missed it, nothing moved in the New York-Washington Corridor. State and federal officials closed roads, shut down mass-transit systems and imposed mandatory travel bans. Thankfully, there have been relatively few deaths and injuries and blessedly few reports of power outages.
1/23/16, 5:30AM ET, SATURDAY
ABANDON ALL HOPE TODAY ...
In a few words: Abandon all hope today if you were hoping to fly (or drive or take mass transit) anywhere from Northern Georgia to the New York Metropolitan area.
If anything, the storm is worse than the forecasters predicted. As of 5am, there was 13 inches on the ground at both Washington/Dulles and Washington/National and hours more precipitation is predicted. There has already been three inches of snow around the New York/Kennedy area and the worst of the storm hasn't even reached New York. As of 5:15am, Newark airport reported that snow was falling at two inches an hour. There's been more than 14 inches of snow in parts of West Virginia. The Carolinas and the border states are struggling to dig out of the snow and ice that hit yesterday.
In the skies--or, more accurately, not in the skies--FlightStats.com reports that more than 3,500 flights have been scrubbed nationwide as of 5:15am. Expect virtually nothing to move at the Washington-area hub airports, in Philadelphia or at the New York area hub airports. Smaller airports in the area are also paralyzed, either by snow or by pre-cancellations. Charlotte will struggle to get back on something like a schedule today after American Airlines dumped most of its flights there yesterday. Raleigh-Durham continues to suffer, too.
On the ground, even interstates are snow covered. Mass transit in the region is mostly down, although the New York City subway system continues to run. Not so for the Washington or Philadelphia systems. Most of New Jersey Transit is also shutdown. Amtrak is running on a severely limited basis in the Boston-Washington Corridor, but nothing is moving on the railroad south of Washington/Union Station to Virginia or other parts of the Southeast.
1/22/16, 11:45PM ET, FRIDAY
NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS WAS NOT A 'GOOD' FRIDAY
Friday turned out to be as bad a day as the weather forecasters predicted. The storm barreled into the Carolinas and the border states and wiped out most flights, including American Airlines' entire schedule at Charlotte. In Tennessee, a state highway patrolman said interstates were "pure gridlock" around downtown Nashville and "just totally shut down." In Kentucky, travelers have spent hours going nowhere on the interstate highways. The Metro Washington area shut down early and the streets were mostly empty.
For the day, FlightStats.com reported more than 4,000 cancellations nationwide. That's an 18 percent cancellation rate--or about 9 times the normal daily average. More than 5,000 other domestic flights were delayed. Charlotte was worst hit, of course, but the Washington area airports began to shut down late in the afternoon just as the snow started falling. The last flight out at Baltimore-Washington was the 9pm British Airways departure to London. Raleigh-Durham was mostly down, there were heavy delays and cancellations at Atlanta-Hartsfield and a large number of pre-cancellations at Philadelphia and the New York Airports.
1/22/16, 9PM ET, FRIDAY
AND THIS IS WHY WE HATE UNITED ...
I didn't have a secret agenda yesterday when I wrote about the broken culture of United Airlines and its bleak future. But then came the blizzard and United went ahead and showed exactly how screwed up it is.
United announced yesterday that it was closing down its East Coast operations--including its Washington/Dulles and Newark hubs--starting at 4pm on Friday. Then United apparently changed its mind and decided it wouldn't shut its Newark hub after all. It announced early this morning that only the United Express commuter-flight operations would be scrubbed on Saturday at Newark and some mainline flights would operate after all. Then it changed its mind again and announced that nothing would operate at Newark on Saturday.
One San Francisco-based member of JoeSentMe kept me up-to-date on her attempts to get out of Newark on United. She was originally scheduled to fly Saturday morning at 9am. Despite its initial insistence that Newark was closing on Friday night, United rescheduled her for a flight departing at 1:29pm on Saturday. Obviously, United eventually cancelled that flight. "They are driving me crazy," she said ruefully. When last I heard, she'd rebooked herself on a Virgin America flight from New York/JFK on Sunday because she'd lost confidence in United.
1/22/16, 6PM ET, FRIDAY
IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL THE FAT MAN WHINES ...
Chris Christie desperately wants to be the GOP nominee for president, so he's basically moved to New Hampshire in a last-ditch attempt to make an impact on the race. The problem with that? He's the sitting governor of New Jersey and he seems to have forgotten that he occasionally has to show up in the Garden State.
Early today, he refused to suspend his campaign and fly home before the huge blizzard hit New Jersey. But he relented after taking criticism about his refusal and, you know, his reluctance to do his job. "I gotta go home," the obviously annoyed Christie told a campaign event in New Hampshire this afternoon. But he didn't relent because he's devoted to his duty. "I guarantee you ... that if I didn't go back they'd criticize me, when I do go back they'll criticize me for whatever I do when I'm there, and then when I leave to come back here they'll criticize me for leaving."
As The New York Times reported just yesterday, Christie spent more than half of 2015--191 days--entirely out of New Jersey. Before he made some snow-related public appearances late today, he'd managed only two official appearances so far in 2016.
1/22/16, 4PM ET, FRIDAY
DOWN GOES PORTER AIRLINES OF TORONTO
Porter Airlines, the boutique Canadian carrier based at close-in Toronto/City Island airport, has suffered a failure of third-party operational facilities. Everything is down--including the rest of its flights today. The Web site isn't working, the phones are clogged and the airline shut service rather than fly blind. What happens on Saturday is anyone's guess.
1/21/16, 8PM ET, THURSDAY
AIRLINES ARE BAILING AND FRENCH TOAST IS COOKING
Airlines are bailing fast, pre-cancelling flights from Charlotte north to Boston. More than 2,100 flights have already been dumped tomorrow, according to FlightStats.com. That includes 1,000 in Charlotte, nearly 300 at Washington/National, 250 at Washington/Dulles, 200 in Philadelphia and more than 150 at Raleigh/Durham.
Here's how the big three carriers are planning to dump service:
+ All flights cancelled at the Charlotte hub on Friday. Service is expected to resume sometime Saturday.
+ All flights cancelled Saturday (1/23) at Baltimore/Washington, Dulles, National and Philadelphia. There will be heavy cancellations at those airports on Friday evening, too.
+ All American Eagle commuter flights cancelled at Newark, New York/LaGuardia and New York/JFK. Service is expected to resume sometime Sunday.
All flights to/from the Mid Atlantic are cancelled starting at 4pm on Friday. That includes United's Dulles and Newark hubs. Flights aren't expected to resume until Sunday.
More than 120 flights in the Southeast, including Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham, are already cancelled for Friday. Further cancellations will be announced tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, Amtrak is cancelling or rerouting many trains along the East Coast. That includes trains as far south as Florida and as far north as Boston. Service on Acela and other trains between Boston and Washington will be curtailed. Here's what the railroad operator is saying now.
All the weather models still predict the heaviest snow--a foot or more--will be in the Washington area. The Washington Metro rail and bus service will shut down Friday night through at least Sunday evening. That basically means Metro Washington will be shut down because the roads will surely be impassable given the ineptitude of the region's emergency services.
State of emergencies have already been declared in the District, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland and Georgia.
Finally, there's this. Apparently millions of people in the Northeast and MidAtlantic are planning to ride out the storm by making an endless stream of French Toast. How else to explain the run on bread, milk and eggs at supermarkets throughout the region?
1/21/16, 11AM ET, THURSDAY
I'VE WRITTEN THESE WINTER TIPS SO OFTEN, YOU SHOULD HAVE THEM MEMORIZED
The latest edition of my apparently annual column about how to plan, travel and protect yourself during winter weather posted just two weeks ago over at BizJournals.com. The tips all make perfect sense. Not as much sense as staying back at your home or office and not risking a potentially losing fight with Mother Nature, of course, but it's your call. Please, consult this before you hit the road during the next few days.
1/21/16, 10:45AM ET, THURSDAY
HERE ARE THE AIRLINE TRAVEL WAIVERS
Here are all the travel waivers posted by U.S. and Canadian carriers in advance of this weekend's big storm. They vary slightly from carrier to carrier. If you don't like the terms, wait your airline out. They're likely to announce massive pre-cancellations of flights later in the day.
DELTA AIR LINES
1/21/16, 10:30AM ET, THURSDAY
IT'S JANUARY. TIME TO TALK SNOW AND LOUSY TRAVEL CONDITIONS AGAIN.
A potentially large storm beginning tomorrow is expected to whack the Northeast and MidAtlantic, mostly along the 1-95 Corridor.
Since this is our first winter alert of the season, a reminder: The Weather Channel and Weather.com are useless. The channel is so desperate for ratings that it pumps up the volume on everything, invents storm names that have no legal standing or meteorological validity and, worst of all, is basically useless if you're trying to accurately access the forecast and its potential impact on you.
Your better option is the National Weather Service page, Weather.gov. It also allows you to drill down to the county level for specific forecast information. It's all the useful news you need and none of the silly hype. Yeah, you don't get the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore gushing about snow on the Mall, but, hey, do you really need to see that again?
That said, what are we facing? Starting tomorrow, look for these possibilities
+ Significant icing in parts of the Carolinas and southern Virginia. That'll make road travel dicey and probably play havoc with major airports such as American's Charlotte hub and Raleigh-Durham.
+ Blizzard conditions with a foot or more snow in the Metropolitan Washington area. So much that it is likely to wipe away all or most of scheduled flights at Washington/National, Washington/Dulles and Baltimore/Washington airports. And given that an inch or so of snow last night all but paralyzed the District and the suburbs this morning, expect the effects of any major snowfall to cripple the area right into Monday. In fact, look for airlines serving the three areas to begin pre-cancelling flights at DCA, IAD and BWI.
+ A messy wintry mix of moderate snow, some ice and coastal rains and flooding from Philadelphia up through Boston. There'll likely be heavy delays and cancellations starting Friday afternoon at all the airports in this congested part of the nation. That includes Philadelphia, the three major Metro New York airports and Boston/Logan.
All of this is forecast, of course, not certainty. And the weather geeks are waffling on many factors--with one exception. All of the models seem to indicate a major and crippling snow event in the Washington area.
Good news? Well, this is a relatively light period for travel, which should make re-accommodation somewhat easier. And while travel Friday night, one of the busiest periods of any week, could be tricky, the bulk of the storm activity looks to be Saturday, a comparative dead zone for flying.
So what to do? If you need to fly into/out of the Washington area, try to do it today. I suspect Friday, the weekend and even Monday will be very rough. The District and surrounding municipalities suck at snow and ice prep and removal and the roads will be a disaster. The airports will claim to be "open," but there'll be few flights and no way to get to them via ground transportation. For the other regions, try to plan around the weekend. In other words, maybe blow off travel into/out of the Northeast and MidAtlantic after today and watch football.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.