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An 'Historic,' if Somewhat Selective, Storm
The usually circumspect National Weather Service predicted an "historic" storm for the Northeast--and the NWS was right, just selectively. As predicted, the Washington Metro area was relatively unscathed. Philadelphia got off comparatively easily. As New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio, who took heat for shutting down the town, said: "We dodged a bullet." But most of New England didn't. Parts of Maine and Massachusetts got socked with 36 inches of snow and more than two feet fell on Boston/Logan Airport. Here is how we covered events. As usual, the latest item is on top, so read up from the bottom for context.
1/29/15, 11:30PM ET, THURSDAY
BOSTON'S BACK, BABY!
The blizzard that buried Boston in more than two feet of snow on Tuesday obviously wiped out the entire day's schedule at Logan Airport. According to FlightStats.com, there were 846 cancellations at Logan. Yesterday was tough, too, with more than 368 cancelled flights. No surprise given that the city was struggling with the aftermath. But credit where credit is due: There were just 22 cancellations at Boston/Logan today, a remarkable recovery even while Bostonians are still trying to figure out where to put all that snow.
1/28/15, 9PM ET, WEDNESDAY
HOW MANY FLIGHTS WERE CANCELLED? LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS
How many flights got dumped this week in the United States? More than 8,100, according to MasFlight.com. It tracked 241 dumps on Sunday (January 25); 2,707 cancellations on Monday (January 26); a staggering 4,506 on Tuesday (January 26), when most carriers proactively cancelled their entire schedules in New England, New York and Philadelphia; and 697 today. But that may not be the entire picture. For today, FlightStats.com says nearly 850 flights have been dumped. And FlightAware.com has its own statistics. The disparity is statistically irrelevant, however. The bottom line is that a whole mess of flights were wiped out in the last four days.
1/28/15, 5PM ET, WEDNESDAY
YES IT WAS A BLIZZARD, JUST NOT EVERYWHERE
New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo are taking heat for shutting down New York City and the metropolitan area's roads, bridges and mass transit. National Weather Service forecasters are being pummeled for not getting it "right."
Their collective crime? Predicting an "historic" blizzard (the forecasters) and preparing the region for a "historic" blizzard (the pols).
But try telling folks in New England that this wasn't an historic blizzard. And check out Metropolitan New York's geography to see how close New York City came to a calamitous "snowpocalyse."
New England first. Here are some of the snowfall totals for Monday evening and through Tuesday: 36 inches in Lunenburg, Hudson and Auburn, Massachusetts; 34.5 inches in Worcester, home of Worcester Regional Airport; 27 inches in South Boston, 24.4 inches at Boston/Logan Airport and 27.4 inches at Portland Jetport in Maine. Plus winds that gusted at or beyond Category 1 hurricane force (75 miles per hour).
Now, about the New York Metropolitan Area non-blizzard. It's true that parts of the five boroughs of New York City received as little as four inches. But 9.8 inches were recorded in Central Park. In the borough of Queens, where the airports are, snowfalls were higher still: 10.7 inches at Kennedy and 11 inches at LaGuardia.
Just 43 miles away, however, at Islip Airport in Suffolk County, Long Island, there was 24.7 inches of snow, more than at Logan Airport.
Are we really so arrogant about weather now that we can't cut the forecasters and politicians a 40-mile mulligan? And did you really want to be trying to fly into or out of LGA or JFK if the two feet of snow actually fell?
1/27/15, 10:45AM ET, TUESDAY
THE ODYSSEY OF VIRGIN ATLANTIC FLIGHT 4
New York, Connecticut and New Jersey bureaucrats and politicians are already taking heat for their decision to shut down the Metropolitan New York region in front of a blizzard that didn't quite paralyze the community. But maybe the critics should bone up on the fate of passengers on Virgin Atlantic Flight 4 on Monday evening. The JFK-London flight spent six hours on the tarmac trying to get out. When it couldn't, the passengers were dumped back into a deserted terminal to spend the night. Here's what happened, according to NBC News.
1/27/15, 7:45AM ET, TUESDAY
SNOW DAY, THE FUNNEST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF BUSINESS TRAVEL
All I can do is paraphrase what Diamond Joe Quimby said on a classic episode of The Simpsons: I declare this to be Snow Day, the funnest day in the history of business travel.
The blizzard didn't quite, hasn't quite, happened in many parts of the Northeast. And while there have been substantial amounts of snow, from Philadelphia to Maine, conditions are improving fast in some areas. Eastern New England, including Boston, Hartford and Portland, continues to get pounded, however.
Down in Washington Metro, the three airports (National, Dulles and BWI) are working and there are take-offs and landings albeit with delays. Philadelphia conditions are pretty good, but there will be very limited flight service during the day. Some flights will resume later today.
In the New York/New Jersey area, ground travel bans are being lifted even as I write this. Mass transit is still down, but should begin operating in phases shortly. Very few flights will operate today at the three big airports, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark. There will be some flights this evening, but things will be very much better tomorrow than we could have expected. There is, comparatively speaking, very little snow. But things are extremely quiet because government officials in both states literally shut down everything: roads, trains, buses, bridges, tunnels, airports.
And since most businesses planned to be closed today expecting a blizzard or blizzard-like "snow event," there's nothing to do but enjoy Snow Day, the funnest day in history.
On Eastern Long Island and throughout much of New England, however, there have already been upwards of 24 inches of snow. It is still falling and may continue to fall through this evening. In other words, Boston/Logan, Providence T.F. Green, Hartford Bradley, Portland Jetport and smaller airports are down. And when they'll be able to get up remains an open question.
Blizzard warnings remain in effect for Eastern New England throughout the day and all evening.
Now we scramble to resume. The further south your travel is, the better your chances of an early flight are.
For the stats mongers among you, FlightStats.com reports 3,800 cancellations on Monday and 4,500 today. FlightAware.com reports 3,200 yesterday and 4,900 today. The New York area received as little as nine inches of snow (Central Park reading) up to around a foot (at LaGuardia) and two feet in Eastern Long Island. We've passed the 24-inch mark in many parts of New England and it's still falling.
Enjoy the Snow Day if you can.
1/26/15, 4PM ET, MONDAY
MEET THE NEW TRAVEL PREP, SAME AS THE OLD TRAVEL PREP
A column I wrote last year at this time about winter travel prep still makes sense because everything old is new again when it comes to weather. Click here to read it.
1/26/15, 3PM ET, MONDAY
GO AWAY OR WE'LL CALL THE BRUTE SQUAD
This will only reconfirm what we've been talking about. The Northeast from Philadelphia to Maine is closed--or about to be--and when it reopens is an open question.
You want stats? Fine. The major flight-tracking services, FlightStats.com and FlightAware.com, report that at least 6,000 flights are cancelled today and tomorrow. The outlook for Wednesday is anyone's guess. But if you're guessing, assume it'll be a nightmare.
You want specifics? Fine.
United Airlines won't fly at all tomorrow from the New York/Kennedy, New York/LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia and Boston/Logan.
American Airlines and US Airways will close its hubs this evening at Philadelphia, New York/LaGuardia and New York/Kennedy and they won't operate on Tuesday.
Delta has cancelled at least 600 flights in the region.
JetBlue, whose operations are centered on New York/Kennedy and Boston/Logan, is offloading flights with increasing speed.
There will be no flights at Boston/Logan after 7pm tonight and tomorrow.
There'll be no flights from Portland Jetport tomorrow.
Few other airlines still have any flights on the books in the Northeast tomorrow. That includes most international carriers. But it doesn't matter if you can find a flight late tonight or tomorrow. There'll be no way to get to or from the airport.
New York State highways will close at 10pm tonight. New York City roads are closed to all but emergency traffic starting at 11pm. Massachusetts roads close at midnight. Connecticut is banning road traffic at 9pm. New Jersey roads, at least now, will stay open, but I won't risk the Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State or any of the secondary roads.
Mass transit at the region is also basically done. There will be no T service in Boston tomorrow. The final New Jersey transit buses and trains depart major stations at 8pm and the system shuts at 10pm tonight. The Metro North and Long Island Railroad in New York and Connecticut shut down at 11pm. The New York subway system is slashing service beginning at 7pm this evening. Amtrak says its schedule remains in place today, but is making no promises for tomorrow.
So, okay, where do we go from here? Washington/National, Washington/Dulles and Baltimore/Washington--where service is disrupted but should continue tomorrow--should be close to normal on Wednesday. Philadelphia should be operating, but with heavy delays and many cancellations, on Wednesday.
Elsewhere? A total crapshoot. Perhaps there'll be some service at the New York airports late in the day on Wednesday. But even that is tricky. There probably isn't much hope for any substantial operations at Boston or Portland on Wednesday. All things being equal, it'll probably be Thursday before there is substantial movement from New York to Maine. Which means you're facing serious delays and cancellations--not to mention totally booked flights--through the weekend.
1/25/15, 10:15PM ET, SUNDAY
AN 'HISTORIC' BLIZZARD IS ON THE WAY, SAYS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
With a blizzard bearing down on the region, airlines are beginning to cancel flights en masse. Needless to say, if you don't have to travel in the East this week, don't. Even if you do, you may not be able to.
Delta Air Lines announced it has cancelled 600 flights into and out of the Northeast on Monday (January 26) because of the storm. Bottom line: It wants its planes out of the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington and won't fly them in until it is sure the aircraft won't get stuck in the snow. Expect at least that many cancels on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, United Airlines has canceled ALL flights Tuesday (January 27) in New York (including at its Newark hub), Philadelphia and Boston. This from an airline that didn't even post a travel waiver until about 5pm Eastern Time today. We're already hearing tales of two-hour waits on hold for United reservations thanks to United's late issuance of a travel waiver and its decision to proactively wipe out its Philadelphia to Boston operations.
Combined with cancellations from other airlines, that's a total of about 2,200 cancellations before the first flake has fallen.
What's going to happen here, fellow travelers, is that airlines are attempting to get their aircraft out of airports from Pennsylvania to Maine so they aren't stuck in the snow. That means you have a decent chance of getting out on Monday morning and early afternoon but it'll be dicey after that. My guess is that the airlines will try to fly their early Monday evening flights to Europe, park the planes in airports around the continent and leave them there until the storm passes.
And don't think the airlines will easily resume service on Wednesday (January 28). Expect massive cancellations on Wednesday, especially since there will be no planes in places like Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark, Boston/Logan, Philadelphia and smaller airports in the region.
All the airlines serving airports from Washington north to Maine have now issued travel waivers for Monday and Tuesday. Unfortunately, they are requiring you to fly by Friday, January 30. Which means you may rebook for a flight later in the week only to be cancelled or have to change again when the airlines extend their travel waivers. It's this kind of pennywise, pound-foolish approach that infuriates travelers, clogs phone lines and reminds flyers how little the airlines care about running an operation that considerately serves its customers.
A tip: Do not check in online or in advance for your flight in these conditions. Check in only at the airport, especially if your ticket has been issued by a travel agent or travel-management firm. If you check in in advance, last-minute flight changes become extremely difficult and convoluted.
Amtrak hasn't yet cancelled any trains in the region, but it is already preparing travelers for massive cuts in service.
Another tip: The later in the day on Monday you arrive at an East Coast airport, the more difficulty you'll have getting into the city. If you're trying to get home, be very careful. If you're not headquartered in the East, you'd better have hotel reservations at the airport in your back pocket if you can't continue on the roads. It's logical to expect many road closures late Monday through early Wednesday.
Once again, a final warning. If you do not have to travel to/from/through the East this week, don't. Even the National Weather Service (http://www.weather.gov) is throwing around the word "historic" for the impact on the New York and Boston metro areas. Washington will be least affected, so expect the storm's impact to get worse as you head north.
Right now, weather experts are predicting from four inches of snow in the Washington area to as much as three feet in some places in New York and New England. And with high winds, we are literally looking at blizzard conditions.
1/25/15, 1PM ET, SUNDAY
DIRE WARNINGS OF A GIGANTIC STORM IN THE NORTHEAST
There are increasingly dire weather forecasts for the Northeast Corridor from late this evening through Tuesday night. If the storm is as bad as predicted, flights will be delayed and cancelled for days and ground transportation will be severely disrupted.
According to the National Weather Service, there is a potential for blizzard conditions from Monday afternoon through Tuesday night in the New York and Boston Metropolitan areas. There is the chance for heavy snow in Philadelphia, significant snow in Baltimore and enough snow in Washington to shut the place down on Monday.
Let's take it region by region:
WASHINGTON METRO -- Accumulations of 1-2 inches overnight into early Monday morning, which, as you probably know, tends to play havoc with the District and some surrounding suburbs. Of course, so does spitting on the sidewalk...
BALTIMORE -- Accumulations of 5-10 inches from Sunday night through Tuesday morning.
PHILADELPHIA -- Accumulations of 6-12 inches from Monday through Tuesday afternoon.
NEW YORK METRO -- Accumulations of 1-2 FEET with locally heavier snow possible. High and damaging winds creating blizzard conditions and whiteouts. The timing is Monday afternoon through Tuesday night.
BOSTON METRO -- Accumulations of 1-2 FEET with locally heavier snow possible. High and damaging winds creating blizzard conditions, whiteouts and coastal flooding. The timing is Monday afternoon through Tuesday night.
Let me stress that this is the National Weather Service (http://www.weather.gov) making these assessments, not the fear-mongering folks over at the Weather Channel (http://www.weather.com), who have named this storm Juno. (And as I always remind you, the Weather Channel winter-storm naming conventions are NOT official, just a hook to get you to watch.)
Bottom line: This is a potentially very disruptive storm. And if the worst-case scenarios occur, travel will be paralyzed all week in New York, Northern New Jersey and New England. If you can change your plans Monday and Tuesday for travel to/from the Northeast Corridor, do it. I'd also be very circumspect about late-week travel.
Many major airlines serving the Northeast have now issued Travel Advisories and Waivers. However, do note that they are SEVERELY restrictive (only for Monday and Tuesday) and insist you fly by January 31. If the storm is as bad as it could be, that means the airlines will once again be forcing us into double-change and cancellation situations. Idiotic, of course, but typical airline activity these days.
Astonishingly, we have not yet heard from American or United airlines or Amtrak. I can't imagine what the delay is, especially since United's Newark hub is directly affected and American's US Airways division has already posted.
You may want to follow developments directly with the National Weather Service at http://www.weather.gov. You can drill down to the county level for forecasts. The Weather Channel is already so shrill, it's hard to watch, frankly.
And, again, a warning, blizzards in the Northeast can paralyze roads and mass transit and cause widespread power outages, too. Plan accordingly.
A silver lining? Hotel bookings are at seasonal lows in the Northeast, so there are plenty of hotel rooms NOW. You may want to book backups if you must travel. And remember, Marriott and Hilton (as well as Hyatt) now have one-day cancellation policies. So look to Starwood and InterContinental for flexibility.
This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 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.