Snowstorm spares DC, heads toward New England

Associated Press
A pedestrian walks through the campus of Phillips Academy during a winter storm in Andover, Mass. Tuesday, March 19, 2013.  Winter went out with a blast in the Northeast on Tuesday, snow and sleet closing schools in some areas and making roads an icy, slippery mess a day before spring starts. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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MANTOLOKING, N.J. (AP) — A late-winter storm inflicted new damage Thursday to parts of the Jersey shore still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, as New Englanders braced for potential evacuations and coastal flooding.

The storm buried parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions with snow but barely laid a glove on Washington, D.C.

As the storm moved up the coast to New England, strong winds, heavy snow and power outages were expected.

In Mantoloking, N.J., the Jersey shore town hardest-hit by Sandy, pounding surf broke through a temporary dune during the early-morning high tide. The dune breach forced the closing of a major coastal highway.

Detective Stacy Ferris said the breach spanned three oceanfront properties, sending 3 to 6 inches of water flowing through onto the highway. As a result, officials closed portion of Route 35; the southern part of the borough remained open.

The state Department of Transportation, along with Mantoloking's own public works crews and contractors, were busy scooping and pushing sand back into the breach to prepare for high tide, expected at about 3 p.m. Thursday.

"We're going to plug that hole before the next high tide," Ferris said.

Every one of the 521 homes in Mantoloking was damaged to some degree by Sandy. Many were completely destroyed and hundreds of others suffered major damage.

The storm's no-show in Washington came after it pummeled the nation's midsection Tuesday, killing at least five people in weather-related traffic accidents. More than 1,100 flights were cancelled Tuesday at Chicago's two airports alone, and hundreds more were cancelled Wednesday in Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

The National Weather Service was predicting up to 7 inches of heavy, wet snow in southeastern Connecticut through Friday morning and wind gusts that could hit 50 mph. A coastal flood warning was in effect starting Thursday morning for east-facing shores in Massachusetts, with up to a 3-foot surge at high tide in some areas. Central Massachusetts was bracing for 4 to 8 inches of snow, while early predictions were that Boston would get less.

In the seacoast town of Scituate, about 30 miles south of Boston, emergency officials were setting up a shelter at the high school and preparing for three high tides during the duration of the storm. The first was expected at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

"They are recommending that folks who live right on the coast to evacuate at least three hours before high tide," said Mark Patterson, the town's harbormaster.

"A lot of the concern has to do at this point with the wind direction and duration of the storm," Patterson said.

"If the wind stays in the northeast for all three (high tides), that will drive the storm surge onto shore and that's when we see coastal flooding and beach erosion."

In Washington, where as much as 10 inches had been forecast, the storm did little but drop harmless snowflakes that rapidly melted amid warmer-than-expected temperatures.

There were bigger problems elsewhere in the region, though.

In Maryland, the U.S. Coast Guard planned to resume searching for a distressed fishing boat that was lost in rough seas with two men on board. The Coast Guard said the 67-foot boat became disabled 15 miles east of Assateague Island on Wednesday. A sister ship had been towing the disabled boat, but lost its grip. The situation unfolded in 12-to-14 foot waves. The Coast Guard found a third man on a life raft and was able to rescue him.

Lashing winds also blew off part of the roof of a Stone Harbor, N.J., condominium complex and Ocean City officials advised residents to move their cars to higher ground in preparation of possible flooding. Maryland's Bay Bridge, which connects Maryland's Eastern shore with the Baltimore-Washington region, was temporarily closed in both directions, because of wind gusts of up to 60 mph.

In North Carolina, state officials said high winds led to sound side flooding along N.C. 12 and brought the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry run to a halt.

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency and about 50 National Guard soldiers were sent out to help clear roads. Up to 20 inches of snow piled up in central and western parts of the state. More than 200,000 customers in Virginia alone lost power and another 40,000 in New Jersey were left in the dark. Hundreds of wrecks were reported around the region.

The storm dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of neighboring West Virginia, closing schools in more than half the state and leaving more than 20,000 customers without power.

In Pennsylvania and Ohio, many areas had 4 to 6 inches of snow. The weather service issued a winter storm warning for the Philadelphia area and parts of central Pennsylvania through Thursday morning.

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Associated Press writers Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Jessica Gresko, Ben Nuckols and Brett Zongker in Washington; David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md..; Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va.; Don Babwin and Jason Keyser in Chicago; Kevin Wang in Madison, Wis.; and Sylvia Wingfield and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.

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