A late-winter storm is about to bury the eastern U.S. in snow.
Airlines have canceled thousands of flights, wholesale power prices surged and natural gas futures rallied as the storm prepared to spin up the Atlantic Coast, threatening New York with an overnight blizzard. German Chancellor Angela Merkel delayed her trip to Washington, and President Donald Trump tweeted a picture of himself meeting with Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser about the storm, advising those in its path to be safe.
New York may be covered in as much as 17 inches (43 centimeters) of snow, the National Weather Service said Monday, which could start falling after midnight and ramp up in the early hours of Tuesday. While New York and Boston closed public schools, commodities and stock markets were still set to open, and traders were watching shares of transportation companies and retailers that may fall from disruptions.
“There will be pretty hefty snowfall totals across the entire Northeast,” said Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
The culprits are a low-pressure system that moved Monday across the Midwest, where it brought snow to Chicago, and another over the Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina. The energy from the first will feed the second as it grows in strength, creating a nor’easter.
A shift in the system’s track as its barrels up the coast could create a precipitation stew for some cities. It’s expected to pass over Cape Cod in Massachusetts, which might bring more rain and sleet to Boston instead of a steady snowfall. Washington will also probably see a mix, Chenard said, but New York is likely to be buried in flakes alone.
The track could foil meteorologists’ forecasts – and it wouldn’t be the first time the rain-snow line snared them. In January 2015, outlooks called for New York to receive as much as 36 inches during one blizzard and less than 10 inches ended up falling in Central Park.
While it might seem late in the season for a big dump, it’s not out of the ordinary, Chenard said. “We thought we could get out of the winter without this, but that’s not going to happen.”
New York has been hit by massive March storms many times. The Blizzard of 1888, which killed 400 across the Northeast and 200 in the city alone, ranks at the top of the historic list, according to Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“This is historic in the sense that we are adding to history, but not unprecedented,” said Brian Hurley, senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center.
Both Philadelphia and Boston could get about a foot, and Washington might get five inches. Emergencies were declared in states including New York, New Jersey and Virginia.
Intercontinental Exchange Inc.’s New York Stock Exchange said Monday that it expected business as usual Tuesday, as did Nasdaq Inc.’s markets. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said it expected its corporate office and the majority of Northeast branches to close Tuesday. American Express Co. advised employees at its headquarters in downtown Manhattan to work from home.
Fuel Demand Up
The cold that dropped into the region pushed April natural gas futures up. They rose 3.5 cents on Monday to $3.043 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Feb. 9.
Electricity at a benchmark in the eastern U.S. known as the Western hub meanwhile jumped 16 percent for day-ahead delivery to $52.95 a megawatt-hour, the most since Dec. 15.
Fuel demand was increasing in the U.S. Northeast and Great Lakes regions as consumers bought supplies ahead of the storm, energy distributor Mansfield Energy said in an online update.
“The weather is pretty strong,” Cody Moore, president of BioUrja Group’s power trading division in Houston, said in an email. “Our meteorologist says these are the strongest deviations from normal of the entire winter.”
Amtrak suspended Acela train service between Boston and New York and cut back its schedule to Washington. More than 5,300 flights across the U.S. were canceled, FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracker said.
The threat to travel caused Innophos Holdings Inc. in Cranbury, New Jersey, and EPAM Systems Inc. in Newtown, Pennsylvania, to postpone shareholders’ meetings. The House of Representatives won’t schedule votes for Tuesday. The German chancellor’s trip to Washington for talks with Trump was postponed until March 17, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Winter storms and cold waves can mean insurance claims from roof collapses, broken pipes and business interruption. The S&P 500 Property & Casualty Insurance Index slipped on Monday. Travelers Cos., which has substantial operations in the U.S. Northeast, was among the biggest decliners.
New York fruit growers may be beneficiaries of the storm, said Marvin Pritts, a horticulture professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Snow provides moisture and an insulating blanket for low-growing crops. Record warm temperatures in February had coaxed many plants out of winter dormancy, increasing the chances freezing readings would damage them.
Utilities from Washington to Maine positioned crews and prepared for the worst from the storm that could bring wind gusts as strong as 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour along with the blizzard. “Bucket trucks can’t operate with gusts reaching 50 miles per hour,”said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for Public Service Enterprise Group’s PSE&G utility in New Jersey, said.
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