'Thundersnow' storm pummels the USA's Northeast

The biggest storm to hit the northeastern parts of the United States this winter dropped 30cm or more of snow along the New York-to-Boston corridor on Thursday, turning roads treacherous, grounding flights and giving millions of people weather whiplash a day after temperatures soared as high as 15C.

Scores of accidents were reported as drivers confronted blowing snow and slick highways. Stretches of Interstate 95 in Rhode Island were closed in the afternoon after tractor-trailers got stuck, and dozens of motorists got stranded on New York's Long Island after they couldn't make it up icy ramps.

Schools closed in cities big and small, including New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, and government offices told non-essential workers to stay home.

More than 3500 flights were cancelled across the region and planes bound for New York's Kennedy Airport were ordered held on the ground for hours while crews cleared the runways.

A de-icing truck caught fire at Bradley Airport outside Hartford, Connecticut.

In New York City, a doorman died after falling down a set of stairs and crashing through a plate-glass window while shovelling snow. Police said Miguel Angel Gonzalez, 59, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, suffered cuts on his neck and face.

In Rhode Island, they got "thundersnow," with whiteout conditions accompanied by the rumble of thunder.

"It's pretty nuts here," Felecia White said as she and friends hunkered down in a restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island, waiting for the weather to improve.

"Even with four-wheel drive, you can't do anything. You can't see across the street."

A person in Jersey City, New Jersey, shields themselves from falling snow with an umbrella. Photo / AP
A person in Jersey City, New Jersey, shields themselves from falling snow with an umbrella. Photo / AP

As of late on Thursday afternoon, local time, New York's Hudson Valley and parts of Long Island had up to 30cm of snow, while New York City recorded about 22cm.

A blizzard warning was posted for a swathe of the New England coast, with forecasters saying Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, could get up to half a metre by evening. Boston cancelled school on Friday, too.

West Hartford, Connecticut, had more than 35cm by late afternoon, and Ludlow, Massachusetts, had 45cm. Farther north, Nashua, New Hampshire, received over 33cm and Berwick, Maine, recorded about 30cm.

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about 100 people turned out for a snowball fight. Organiser Andrew Bagley said that while there was snow aplenty, it wasn't ideal for snowball making.

"It's just an unsanctioned, family-ish event for people staying home on a snow day," he said.

"It's an excuse to come downtown and act like little kids again."

In New York City, a group of women in pyjamas waited on the footpath in the freezing cold to attend a taping of ABC's The Chew show, where the day had been proclaimed 'Pyjama Day'.

"It's fun. And it's an experience. Yesterday was 65 degrees (18C), and today, a snowstorm," said Elaine Higgins, a retired educator from Blackwood, New Jersey.

"What's life without adventure?"

Vehicles drive through snow as they approach the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City, New Jersey, during a powerful, fast-moving storm. Photo / AP
Vehicles drive through snow as they approach the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City, New Jersey, during a powerful, fast-moving storm. Photo / AP

The storm came midway through a largely snow-free winter in the Northeast and a day after much of the region enjoyed a brief taste of spring, with record-breaking highs in some places.

Temperatures then crashed more than 15 degrees as the storm rolled in.

"We were waiting for a good one all year," said Morgan Crum, a manager at Katz Ace Hardware in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where more than 50 people stopped in to buy shovels, ice melt, gas cans and other storm provisions.

"We live in New England. This is what we expect."

The Philadelphia area was largely spared after being told to expect up to 20cm in the morning. Some suburbs received 12cm, but by the afternoon, there was almost no trace of snow downtown, and the sun came out.

A hill newly-covered in snow is reflected in the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo / AP
A hill newly-covered in snow is reflected in the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo / AP

Wearing a T-shirt, Alicia Jones tossed salt on the sidewalk outside the Philadelphia restaurant where she works and lamented about what could have been. Her daughter had the day off from school, and Jones had been looking forward to playing in the snow with her.

"But by the time we woke up, it was all over," she said.

- AP

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