U.S. Grounding more than 2,000 planes, Closing schools and downingpower lines

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gsr-6546846The second winter storm of the week swept into the U.S. Northeast, grounding more than 2,000 planes, closing schools and downingpower lines. A third system is expected in about four days.

Four inches (10 centimeters) of snow was reported in New York’s Central Park as of 5 a.m. and freezing rain fell on top of that as commuters struggled to get to work, according to the National Weather Service. Nine to 11 inches were reported in the city’s northern suburbs. Boston received 1.6 inches of snow by 7:08 a.m. with as much as 9 inches forecast for today.

“Ice is going to accumulate on power lines and tree branches, so that, in addition to what snow has already fallen, will lead to some things coming down and potential power outages,” said Joe Pollina, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York. “Not to mention the messy commute in the morning with a layer of snow and on top of a layer of ice.”

A total of 2,351 flights were canceled as of 9:40 a.m. New York time, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. Almost 3,700 flights were grounded in the past two days.

More than 825,000 homes and businesses were blacked out from Ohio to Connecticut, some 500,000 of them in suburban counties of Philadelphia and 13,000 in the city itself, according to data compiled from company websites at 9:30 a.m. New York time.

Travel Advisory

The New York City Emergency Management Office posted a hazardous-travel advisory because of the ice and a state of emergency was declared in New Jersey. New Jersey Transit suspended Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line service because of icy overhead wires.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who also declared an emergency, banned traffic on Interstate 84 and said parts of New York City and Long Island face a shortage of salt.

“The shortage of salt is a complicating factor,” Cuomo said at a press conference today. “The bad news is, there’s snow and ice. The good news is we have been dealing with so many storms with such frequency that we’ve developed quite the expertise with storm management.”

Boston public schools closed for the day, according to the district website, along with Northeastern University, Boston University and Boston College.

Boston Outlook

The storm “could affect both the morning and afternoon commutes, but the morning commute is our greatest concern because it’s expected to snow about 1 to 2 inches an hour,” Rebecca Gould, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts, said by phone. “Snow will definitely be on the ground by the afternoon, and there could be some snow showers still going on.”

The storm was expected to leave mostly ice in Philadelphia.

“This is the way it has been all winter,” said Bernie Rayno, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

When the storm passes, the Northeast will get a three-day respite before the next system brings a chance of more snow for the weekend, Rayno said in an interview at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta.

Central Park received 8 inches of snow Feb. 3 from a storm that snarled travel and grounded many football fans trying to get home after previous day’s Super Bowl game.

Winter Pattern

Weather patterns this winter have brought repeated rounds of polar cold into the U.S. from Canada, bitter weather that has mainly struck the Midwest and has been felt all the way to the Gulf Coast, said Todd Crawford, a principal scientist at Weather Services International in Andover, Massachusetts. WSI is owned by The Weather Co.

The cold gets its start in the Pacific, he said in an interview at the AMS meeting in Atlanta. A deep area of thunderstorm activity over Indonesia has generated heat in the basin, accelerating the jet stream, which is made of ribbons of very strong winds that move weather systems around the globe.

That river of air has run into a ridge of high pressure over Alaska, sending it northward before it drops across the continental U.S., Crawford said. As it moves south through Canada, it picks up polar air that has sent temperatures lower throughout the U.S. several times since January.

“It has stayed cold,” he said. “It’s a stable pattern and that’s a little strange, especially in winter.”

Cold Weather

The eastern U.S. has a 50 to 80 percent chance for below-normal temperatures through Feb. 14, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The cold has boosted energy demand. Natural gas prices have surged 26 percent so far this year. About 49 percent of U.S. households use gas for heating purposes, Energy Information Administration data show.

A storm out of the Rockies is expected to reach the East Coast by Feb. 9, and it may be the worst of the week,AccuWeather said. The track of the system is still in doubt.