Winter Storm Expected to Make Northeast Commutes Treacherous

Jan 22, 2014 12:00 am ET

Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- A winter storm that grounded thousands of flights, scuttled political events and pushed spot natural gas prices to record highs will wind down along the U.S. East Coast today and turn toward the Canadian Maritimes.

New York and Boston commuters may face 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow as the sun rises and the storm heads north, said Gary Best, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. The forecast wind chill reading for 7 a.m. New York time is minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service.

“The snow is gone and the cold is here,” Best said by telephone. “That is basically the theme.”

The storm closed federal offices in Washington, forced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to cancel his inauguration party and prompted Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to reschedule his final State of the State address. By 11:20 p.m. New York time yesterday, 3,020 flights had been grounded, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service.

Boston and Philadelphia schools will be closed today, while New York classrooms will be open, with families advised to use their own judgment when taking children to school, according to district websites.

Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter train schedules were expected to be trimmed or canceled after 8 p.m. yesterday depending on track conditions, the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority said. Most New York City buses were behind schedule and some were detoured, it said. Amtrak expected its Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains between Boston and Washington to experience delays and reduced schedules today.

Cold Coming

Across the Canadian Maritimes, the worst of the snow is expected today. As the storm leaves the Northeast, high winds and plummeting temperatures will mean New Yorkers heading to work will face wind-chill factors from minus 5 Fahrenheit (minus 20 Celsius) to minus 10, Best said.

The bitter cold helped push natural gas on spot markets to record levels. Cash prices on Williams Co.’s Transco Zone 6 hub for New York City surged sevenfold to $120.6976 per million Btu on the IntercontinentalExchange yesterday. Gas at Algonquin City Gates, which includes Boston and other New England deliveries, more than tripled to close at $57.4958.

Natural gas for February delivery rose as much as 1.2 percent in today’s electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after settling 10.5 cents higher yesterday at $4.431 per million British thermal units, the highest since Dec. 26. Prices were within striking distance of $4.50, the highest closing price since July 2011.

Almost half of U.S. households use gas for heating. Spot wholesale electricity jumped to two-week highs across eastern U.S. grids.

NYC Streets

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents to stay home and out of their cars so sanitation workers can clear snow. 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. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Christie and Delaware Governor Jack Markell declared states of emergency.

Temperatures are expected to drop 15 to 30 degrees below average across the upper Midwest, and 15 to 25 degrees from the Lower Great Lakes into the mid-Atlantic region during the next two days, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

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.

The Northeast may see light snow this weekend and another, larger storm early next week, Best said.

--Editors: Richard Stubbe, Mike Anderson