The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
HOME    E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    2017 COLUMNS     JOE'S ARCHIVES     SEARCH     LOG OUT
Meteorologically Speaking, a Bomb of a Storm
It's pretty safe to say that business travelers never heard the terms "bomb cyclone" or "cyclogenesis" or "bombogenesis" before the storm that raked the entire Eastern Seaboard during the first week of 2018. From Florida (where temperatures dropped to the mid-30s and Tallahassee saw its first snow in more than 20 years) to New England (where streets flooded in Boston and regional snowfall hit 18 inches), transportation ground to a halt. Thousands of flights were cancelled and dozens more were diverted. Roads iced over and airports closed. Back in the day, we called this kind of storm a Nor'easter or just "winter." The silver lining? The storm happened early enough in January that most business travelers were still off the road. Here is how we covered it at JoeSentMe and on Twitter. Read up from the bottom for the proper context.

1/18/18, 8PM ET, THURSDAY
TWO WEEKS LATER, KENNEDY IS STILL A LUGGAGE MESS

The silver lining of the "bomb cyclone" that whipped the Southeast, New England and MidAtlantic two weeks ago was that most business travelers hadn't yet set out on the road for the year. But pity the poor leisure travelers, especially JFK flyers, who got bombed by the storm. Kennedy inexplicably melted down due to a series of idiotic errors by officials of the Port Authority, which operates the airport. If you can bear to read it, here is Slate.com's minute-by-minute recap of the events that paralyzed the airport. Worse, though, is the fact that hundreds of bags are still missing. The biggest offender? Delta Air Lines, the largest international operator at JFK. One of its two buildings, Terminal 4, also was hit with a water-main break soon after airport operations resumed. It has been in a social-media firefight with unhappy flyers ever since.

1/10/18, 11PM ET, WEDNESDAY
SURE, LET'S HAVE AN INVESTIGATION ...

How do you sweep snow--and your organization's inability to operate in a few inches of it--under the metaphoric rug? You launch an "investigation" fronted by a famous, but over-the-hill, name, of course. So you won't be shocked to learn that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is mounting an investigation into Kennedy Airport's mishandling of last week's snow and Sunday's burst water pipe in Terminal 4. Heading the inquiry (Show trial? Fake news? Waste of time and money? CYA bait-and-switch?) is Ray LaHood, former Republican Congressman from Illinois who was Secretary of Transportation during the first term of President Obama. ABC News has more details.

1/7/18, 3PM ET, SUNDAY
WATER-MAIN BREAK CLOSES TERMINAL 4 AT JFK

Adding insult to injury department: After days of lunacy caused by the Port Authority's mishandling of this week's storm (see below), a water-main break has closed Terminal 4 at New York's Kennedy Airport. That's the base of most of Delta's international flights and its transcontinental service. Many other international carriers also operate from Terminal 4, which, ironically, is the newest building on the grounds of JFK. Flight operations have been suspended, passengers evacuated and incoming flights diverted elsewhere. People on the ground at T4 report about three inches of standing water. The pipe burst around 2pm.

1/7/18, 1:45PM ET, SUNDAY
FIVE INCHES OF SNOW AND FOUR DAYS LATER IN CHARLESTON

Charleston, South Carolina, isn't a key airport either for business traveler or off-season for leisure flyers. But that doesn't mean its absence from the route map isn't noticed. The airport's two runways closed during the storm on Wednesday that dumped 5.3 inches on the city, the third highest since they began keeping records. Without the proper equipment to plow, clear and sand the runways, the airport remained out of action until late Saturday. Commercial flights didn't resume until this morning. The Post and Courier has more details.

1/7/18, 11:45AM ET, SUNDAY
CONTINUING CHAOS AT KENNEDY

More than 48 hours after New York/Kennedy Airport reopened on Friday morning after Thursday's howling winter storm, the airport continues to be chaotic. There are still cancellations, long delays, misconnecting passengers and lost luggage.

And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the independent fiefdom that operates the airport, continues to alibi and blame everyone and everything but itself.

First, a quick backgrounder: As the storm raged on Thursday morning--do storms do anything but "rage," by the way?--JFK shut down operations shortly before 11am. The first plan was to reopen at 3pm. That was pushed back to 5pm. In fact, the airport didn't reopen until 7am on Friday.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled at Kennedy on Thursday, according to FlightStats.com, but many aircraft had already departed for JFK from points in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Some planes returned to their departure points, but many were diverted to airports to the south (Washington/Dulles and Baltimore/Washington), the west (Chicago/O'Hare) and even to Newburgh/Stewart, a small commercial airport (and part-time military base) about 70 miles north of Manhattan.

Friday was little better, however, and FlightStats.com reports nearly 190 arrival cancellations and 220 departures dumped. That's in addition to Thursday's previously diverted fights trying to get into JFK.

Things were nearly as bad on Saturday, with 63 departing flights and 63 arriving flights dumped. While other airports in New England and the MidAtlantic operated normally even with the bitterly cold temperatures and whipping winds, JFK remained nearly paralyzed.

Bags went astray and terminals were clogged--both inside with passengers and outside with aircraft stuck at the gate and others waiting on the tarmac for a hard stand or a gate assignment. To make matters worse, China Southern and Kuwait Airlines Boeing 777s clipped wings. No one was injured, but it added to the general air of chaos both inside and outside JFK's complex of terminals.

It wasn't until nearly 6:45pm last night that the Port Authority got around to publicly addressing conditions at JFK. Here's what it said in a series of seven tweets:

A surge in flights produced by the rescheduling of delayed flights, combined with the effects of the winter storm, which severely disabled equipment, has resulted in terminal operators and airlines experiencing delays in getting planes and their passengers into their gates. The continued bitter cold and resulting ground equipment issues are expected to continue delays into the evening. Departing passengers, as well as those meeting flights, are encouraged to check with their carriers for any changes in flight schedules. At the request of the Port Authority and the terminal operators, the FAA is limiting some flights into JFK, including all flights scheduled to arrive into Terminal 1 for the rest of the evening. The Port has deployed additional staff to assist travelers and will continue to offer buses to bring passengers experiencing delays back to the terminals. The Port Authority intends to aggressively review with its partners, the terminal operators and airlines, the process to assure that planes and passengers get to their gates during the surge of rescheduled flights that follow a severe weather event.

Needless to say, frustrated passengers have lashed out on social media. They say there's been little help or information from the Port Authority, even less assistance from befuddled and hard-to-locate airline employees and no sense of organization or contingency planning.

As of 11:45am today, FlightStats reports 27 departing flights and 32 arriving flights have already been cancelled. Newark and New York/LaGuardia, two other major airports operated by the Port Authority, are functioning comparatively normally.

If you were wondering, Kennedy received 6.2 inches of snow on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Even with the nasty winds and stubbornly single-digit temperatures, JFK's collapse this week is impossible to explain. Except, of course, for the obvious: The Port Authority is awful, JFK is an operational mess with far too many scheduled flights and nothing's likely to change any time soon because the Port Authority answers to no one.

1/5/18, 1:30PM ET, FRIDAY
AND NOW THE HANGOVER ...

The hangover from yesterday's brutal Nor'easter and today's bitterly cold temperatures are combining to make it another tough day on the road. FlightStats reports more than 1,400 cancellations nationwide and nearly 3,000 delays as of 1:15pm. The bulk of cancellations are happening at Northeast airports--Boston/Logan, the three New York facilities, Philadelphia--and several airports further south on the East Coast: American's Charlotte hub, Norfolk and United's Washington/Dulles hub.

1/4/18, 9:30PM ET, THURSDAY
FRIDAY WON'T BE FUN

Tomorrow? Ugly, too. Even though airlines proactively cancelled many of today's flights, diversions and other cancellations will hit schedules hard, especially for those long-haul international flights originally headed to JFK. FlightStats.com already shows nearly 1,000 cancellations nationwide on Friday. The big problem tomorrow and through the weekend will be bone-numbing cold and high winds. Most of the nation, in fact, is struggling with far below normal temperatures. Wind chills in the low 30s reach as far south as Florida. The wind could lead to flight delays on Friday and the cold will cause problems with aircraft operations.

1/4/18, 9:15PM ET, THURSDAY
TODAY IN A WORD? UGH ...

The winter storm scene today in a word: Ugh. Here's some of what went down today:
     + More than 4,800 flights have been cancelled, most at airports in the Northeast and New England, but also down the East Coast into Georgia.
     + During parts of the day, airports such as New York/LGA, Newark and Boston/Logan were effectively closed. New York/Kennedy officially closed around 11am and is still shut. It isn't due to reopen until 5am local time on Friday. Aircraft en route to JFK were diverted to places such as BWI, which literally ran out of space; Washington/Dulles; Atlanta and even Newburgh/Stewart in new York's Hudson Valley, which hosted Singapore Airlines' Airbus A380 arrival from Frankfurt.
     + Roads throughout the area were a mess. Maryland State Police had responded to more than 100 vehicle crashes by 4pm. New Jersey State Police say they responded to about 350 crashes between midnight and 4pm.
     + Boston bore the brunt of the storm. Around a foot of snow fell and flooding from the Harbor surged into the streets. It even deposited chunks of ice in its wake.
     + Brick Township, New Jersey, now sits atop the snowfall leaderboard with 18 inches measured by the National Weather Service. The NWS recorded near-blizzard conditions throughout the Northeast and MidAtlantic. Technically, however, only Block Island officially reached genuine blizzard conditions. (Blizzard conditions require wind gusts of at least 35 miles per hour and blowing or drifting snow that reduces visibility below a quarter of a mile.)
     + More than five inches of snow fell in Charleston, South Carolina, the third-highest total on record there.

1/4/18, 4PM ET, THURSDAY
LOTS OF SNOW AND MISERY

Here's your midday report on the massive Nor'easter storm pounding the entire East coast of the United States from Florida to Maine.
     + New York/JFK closed just before 11am. Flights en route to Kennedy from Europe are being diverted to other airports. Several aircraft headed to JFK have even turned back to their point of departure.
     + Snowfall has been extraordinarily localized. Will Allen reports just an inch in Raleigh, North Carolina. But 17 inches has fallen as of 1:30pm in Cape May, New Jersey. Other totals from the National Weather Service today: 4 inches at Philadelphia International; 5.2 inches at New York/LaGuardia; and 6.2 inches at New York/JFK. Earlier today, Charleston, South Carolina, recorded 5.3 inches, the third-largest snowfall in the city's history.
     + Flooding from Boston Harbor "stretched down into Boston's Seaport and all the way up to the Maine coast," according to news reports. "Scenes similar to the Massachusetts coast were seen in Kennebunkport, Maine, where roads were under water and chunks of ice flowed from the ocean onto the shore."

1/4/18, 3PM ET, THURSDAY
MEANWHILE, IN EUROPE ...

A separate winter storm, dubbed Eleanor, has been pounding Europe this week. Yesterday was the worst day, but chaos stretches across the continent. Regional airports and major hubs are clogged by delays and cancellations. There have been deaths, too. AFP, the French news equivalent of the Associated Press, has details here.

1/3/18, 11PM ET, WEDNESDAY
BOMBS AND MILLIBARS

First, a politico-meteorological joke: People said hell would freeze over before Alabama elected a Democrat. Democrat Doug Jones was sworn in today as Alabama's newest Senator. Hell--and about half the nation--has, apparently frozen over.

Now the news: Things were dicey today and are expected to be absolutely terrible tomorrow throughout the Southeast and the coastal MidAtlantic and New England states.
    + After nearly 1,000 cancellations and 7,000 delays today--mostly in Southern and Southeastern states--the airlines have already cancelled more than 2,800 flights tomorrow.
    + New York's LaGuardia Airport says 90 percent of Thursday's flights there have already been scrubbed.
    + American Airlines says it has cancelled the Boston-New York-Washington Shuttle and dumped some flights at its Philadelphia and New York/Kennedy hubs. Boston flights are off tomorrow until at least 9:30pm. Hartford flights are off until after 7pm tomorrow and Providence flights are off until at least 9:30pm.
    + Delta Air Lines will stop all flights at Boston tomorrow morning. About 150 flights are already off the board at its JFK hub. There have been delays up and down the East Coast today and are expected tomorrow.
    + Several airports in Florida and the South closed today and there was snow in Tallahassee for the first time in more than two decades.

The latest National Weather Service forecast and backgrounder says "bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills [will] persist across the Eastern states into the weekend." In case you haven't been paying attention, this coastal storm may dump as much as a foot of snow in New England tomorrow and has raked the South and Southeast today. There's been rain, ice, sleet, high winds, low temperatures and snow. In other words, blizzard and blizzard-like conditions.

The meteorologists call this storm a "bomb cyclone," a technical term for when a low-pressure system loses 24 millibars of pressure in 24 hours. Honestly, folks, I don't know what that means. When I was growing up, I think we just called it winter. Meanwhile, the Weather Channel, which makes up its own names for winter storms, is calling this one Grayson. Unlike legitimate weather terms such as "bomb cyclone" or "cyclogenesis" or "bombogenesis," the Weather Channel names are literally fake news.

Bottom line: Avoid the East for the rest of the week. And if you are coming to the Midwest or the East on the weekend, bundle up. Layers and layers and layers. And make sure you have your skin covered because frostbite comes fast in these uber-cold and wet conditions.

A final warning: If you're headed to the Southeast in the next few days, be extra careful. New England and the Midwest know how to handle this stuff. The Southeast? Not so much. An inch or two of snow in the Carolinas is more dangerous for road conditions than a foot in New York or Boston.

One other note: Weather in Western Europe has been awful, too. There were heavy cancellations and delays in Amsterdam, London, Zurich and Paris as well as Frankfurt and Munich.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 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.