A deadly winter storm crawling up the East Coast clobbered the Northeast on Thursday with blinding blizzard conditions and coastal flooding, which snarled travel and left millions of Americans bracing for potential power failures.
Whiteout conditions were reported from New York City, where snow was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour, to New England, where Providence, Rhode Island, was being buried under snow falling at 3 inches per hour.
Islip, New York, on Long Island, had gotten more than 13 inches by late Thursday afternoon, as had parts of New Hampshire.
"This system means business. It's strong, it's tightly wrapped and it's riding up the coast," said Kait Parker, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. "We still have a lot of snow to go."
The massive storm system is what forecasters have called a "bomb cyclone," because its rapid and rare drop in atmospheric pressure can send gusting as high as 60 mph in something like a winter hurricane.
"'Bombogenesis' is the technical term," Ryan Maue, the meteorologist who helped to popularize the term "polar vortex" in 2014, told The Associated Press. "'Bomb cyclone' is a shortened version of it, better for social media. The actual impacts aren't going to be a bomb at all. There's nothing exploding or detonating."
As the storm system moved up the coast, the snow was beginning to lighten in New York City and areas west of town, the National Weather Service said. But it likely won't look that way to New Yorkers for several hours as winds gusting as high as 60 mph will continue to blow the snow sharply in blizzardlike conditions, Parker said.
The Latest on the Storm:
- At least five people were confirmed to have died: three in North Carolina and one each in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed, according to FlightAware. Flights resumed Thursday afternoon at LaGuardia Airport in New York, and they were expected to resume later Thursday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport. In addition, Amtrak said it would operate a modified schedule between New York and Boston.
- Power failures were easing in the South, which the storm blanketed with an extremely rare winter storm. About 9,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity, but most were expected to have been restored by 10 p.m. ET, the utility said. Almost all service had been restored in South Carolina early Thursday evening, and fewer than 3,000 Florida Power & Light customers remained in the dark. In North Carolina, about 5,000 customers remained without power, down from a peak of about 20,000.
At least five people were confirmed to have died as a result of the storm, which started in the Southeast and rapidly moved north.
Three died in North Carolina, where Gov. Roy Cooper said two people were killed when a truck ran off the road and overturned in a creek in Moore County and where authorities said a third person was killed when a vehicle crashed into a canal in Surf City.
In Lower Moreland Township, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, a passenger in a car was killed Thursday when the car couldn't stop at the bottom of a steep, snow-covered hill, crashed through the crossing gate and slammed into a commuter train, police said.
And in Hampton, Virginia, a 75-year-old private contractor who was clearing snow from a parking lot died after he was struck by a snowplow Thursday afternoon, police said.
In New England, blizzard warnings remained in effect as the storm stayed on track to for Canada's Atlantic provinces, where it was expected to arrive overnight into Friday morning.
Tides in Boston Harbor equaled record levels when a high-tide gauge hit 15.1 feet at 12:40 p.m., tying the peak recorded during the historic Blizzard of 1978, NBC Boston reported. Cars were stuck in floodwaters in and around Boston on Thursday afternoon, with emergency responders reporting a number of rescues. The Boston Fire Department posted photos of dramatic rescues on Twitter.
"We anticipated a long high tide, but I didn't know it would be the highest tide in the state's history," Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said.
In the southern Boston suburb of Quincy, Mayor Thomas Koch said: "The city has been hit very hard. We're experiencing major flooding issues."
Travelers were urged to check with their carriers before heading to the airports, as more than 5,000 arrivals and departures had been canceled at U.S. airports by early Thursday night, most of them in the Northeast.
The advancing storm hit the southern United States on Wednesday — starting in Florida, where Tallahassee saw 0.1 inches, its first measurable snowfall in 28 years — triggering emergency declarations and cutting electricity across Georgia and the Carolinas.
As the storm slogged northward, bringing blizzards to coastal Virginia, it rapidly strengthened through a process called bombogenesis; its impact follows a sustained period of brutally cold weather linked to the deaths of at least 24 people since Dec. 26.
Related: What in the world is bombogenesis?
The storm turned parts of the South into winter wonderlands. Pictures of snowfall on sandals and frozen iguanas falling from trees in Florida were widely shared on social media Wednesday. Three inches of snow were recorded in Charleston, South Carolina, where the airport remained closed Thursday and people were urged to stay off the roads because of the ice.
"We're just going to wait for it to melt," city resident Jessica Morse said as her husband used an oar to shovel the driveway and her child built a snowman with beach toys. "Charleston is not prepared."
Behind this storm, meteorologists also warned of dropping temperatures through the weekend along the East Coast, as well as the Midwest. About 115 million Americans were under wind chill advisories, watches or warnings; Boston, New York and Philadelphia could see subzero temperatures.
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"Those wind chill values today are going to be potentially down to 20 below," said Heather Tesch, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.