28 Jan 2015

'Historic' blizzard spares New York

7:47 am on 28 January 2015

A blizzard initially billed as possibly one of the worst ever in New York has left only moderate snow in the Big Apple - and officials and forecasters red-faced - as New England bears the brunt of the storm.

A library employee works to clear the sidewalks in front of the main branch of the Boston Public Library during a blizzard on 27 January 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.

A library employee works to clear the sidewalks in front of the main branch of the Boston Public Library. Photo: AFP

The US Weather Channel had referred to the cold blast as a "possibly historic" winter storm which would likely result in flight cancellations, delays and possible airport closures.

Travel bans have now been lifted and limited public transport has resumed in New York, where officials were forced to launch a vigorous defense of the measures put in place as Winter Storm Juno moved in on Monday.

But the National Weather Service warned of life-threatening conditions along the coast from Long Island into Connecticut and Massachusetts, with more than 60 centimetres in some areas.

"You plan the best you can and you lean toward safety," New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference under a barrage of questioning.

He conceded there was likely to be "some" loss of business, but said he had no estimates.

"It may actually have brought us back to full operating capacity sooner but I do not criticise weather forecasters. I learn," Mr Cuomo said.

Pedestrians walk along a Manhattan street in heavy snow as New York braces for a major winter storm.

Pedestrians walk in Manhattan in heavy snow as New York braced for the storm. Photo: AFP

Shops were closed and few people were on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn on Tuesday.

A handful of home owners shovelled snow from doorsteps in the freezing wind as snowflakes continued to fall thick and fast.

On Monday, Broadway went dark, major concert halls canceled events and NBA games were postponed as dire forecasts led officials to brace for the worst.

In the end, snowfall varied throughout the New York area, with some parts of the city receiving as little as 10.6 centimetres - far short of the city's record 68.3 centrimetres in February 2006.

Long Island was however still being hard hit with up to 50.8 centimetres of snow, and easternmost Suffolk County continued to see blizzard-like conditions and face "serious issues," Mr Cuomo said.

County police confirmed that a teenage boy died late Monday in a sledding accident.

Before the storm hit, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned repeatedly that it would "most likely be one of the largest blizzards" in the city's history.

Mr Cuomo lifted the travel ban, which was imposed at 11.00pm Monday (5pm Tuesday NZDT) at 8am Tuesday (2am Wednesday NZDT). Limited service on city rail and subway lines resumed an hour later.

Service was expected to be back to normal by Wednesday.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also lifted the travel ban in his state but officials in both states nevertheless warned against all but essential travel.

Driving bans were still in effect in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Thousands of flights cancelled

Flight disruptions were still extensive. More than 5000 flights within, to and from the United States were cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to flightaware.com.

Officials said virtually all flights at New York's LaGuardia airport would be cancelled Tuesday and that John F Kennedy International Airport would also see significant cancellations.

In Boston, flights in and out of Logan international airport were still halted.

Thousands were without power along the coast of Massachusetts, including on Nantucket Island, where some were evacuated from their homes, local media reported.

The Weather Service said winds and snow would continue to intensify over New England before tapering off in the evening hours.

Hurricane-force wind gusts at nearly 120 kilometres per hour in coastal areas would lead to "life-threatening whiteout conditions," it said, warning against falling trees, collapsed power lines and coastal flooding.

Schools across the region were closed on Tuesday.

In New York, the United Nations shut its headquarters, forcing the cancellation on Tuesday of an important event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.

-AFP