Federal Offices Close, Energy Prices Surge Amid Eastern Snow

Jan 21, 2014 3:34 pm ET

(Updates hardest-hit airports and commuter trains added in fifth paragraph.)

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Federal offices closed in Washington, New York’s mayor urged people to stay off the streets, thousands of flights were grounded and energy prices surged as a winter storm intensified off the East Coast.

New York City will get 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) of snow, with the heaviest coming down as workers head home at nightfall, said Lauren Nash, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York.

“We’re pretty much on track for widespread snow across the area,” Nash said by telephone. “The strongest band will occur later in the afternoon and early evening. It’s just a matter of time.”

Winter storm warnings stretch from the mountains of North Carolina to the coast of New Hampshire, and blizzard conditions are expected for southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. Government offices in Washington were closed, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said on its website. Chris Christie, who was sworn today for a second term as New Jersey’s governor, canceled the inauguration party at Ellis Island. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick postponed tonight’s State of the State address, while Delaware Governor Jack Markell declared a state of emergency.

As of 3:25 p.m. New York time, 2,914 flights around the U.S. had been canceled, with New York’s LaGuardia, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International the hardest-hit airports, according FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority urged commuter rail passengers to get home early. The Long Island Rail Road added trains to the schedule to help with the evening rush, the Associated Press reported.

Bitter cold coming with the snow pushed natural gas futures up 2.4 percent today to settle at $4.431 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest close since Dec. 26. Almost half of U.S. households use gas for heating. Spot wholesale electricity jumped to two-week highs across eastern U.S. grids and spot gas hit records at hubs serving New York and Boston.

NYC Streets

New Yorkers should stay home and out of their cars as much as possible so sanitation workers can remove the snow as it falls, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press briefing today. The city has put 450 salt-spreaders on the streets and has 2,200 vehicles on hand to tackle the storm.

“People need to take every kind of precaution,” de Blasio said.

A band of heavy snow straddling Interstate 95 from Maryland to Pennsylvania will spread northward, said Carl Erickson, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Washington may get 6 inches of snow, while the rest of the I-95 corridor will see as much as 12.

“It could be pretty ugly for the evening commute,” Erickson said.

Boston Outlook

Ten inches is possible for Boston and its suburbs, with more in southeastern Massachusetts, said Bill Simpson, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.

“One good thing is that most of the snow will fall overnight,” Simpson said. “Tomorrow morning’s commute will be very messy and very cold.”

As the snow piles up along the East Coast through the night, temperatures will fall across the central U.S. The upper Midwest may be hit by “bitter wind-chills” of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 Celsius), while temperatures will be as much as 25 degrees below average from the Mississippi Valley into the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

In Massachusetts, the storm will bring wind gusts of at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour along the coast south of Boston to Cape Cod and the state’s islands. A blizzard warning, meaning visibility may drop as heavy snow mixes with the high winds, has been issued for the area.

Stay Indoors

“Those venturing outside may become lost or disoriented, so persons in the warning area are advised to stay indoors,” the weather service said.

Arctic air is returning to the U.S. after frigid weather that set records across the Midwest earlier this month. Readings dropped to single-digits far into the South.

From today until Jan. 25, average temperatures in the eastern U.S. and Canada are expected to be at least 8 degrees below normal, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. From the Great Lakes to New York, they may be 15 degrees lower.

The cold is making what would have been a small storm much worse, said Rob Carolan, founder of Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. The low temperatures will contribute to higher snow totals, he said.

--With assistance from Jim Polson, Naureen S. Malik and Esme E. Deprez in New York, Anna Shiryaevskaya in London and Annie Linskey in Boston. Editors: Charlotte Porter, Bill Banker