‘Tidal wave of snow’ forecast to cripple north-eastern US

50 million told to ‘go home and stay home’ as planes are grounded and cars ordered off streets before giant storms sweep into New York and Boston

A crippling blizzard predicted to dump historic snowfalls swept into the American north-east as shops reported panic buying, airlines cancelled thousands of flights and governors announced states of emergency and travel bans.

Meteorologists forecast up to two feet of snow would fall in New York city in a few hours while 30 inches could carpet Boston.

But just as alarming were the heavy winds that would drive the snow as gusts were expected to reach 50mph in New York and near hurricane-strength 70mph in Cape Cod, whipping up towering drifts and exacerbating the rapid accumulations.

As the storm bore down on America’s most populated corridor, a 250-mile stretch from New Jersey to New England, political leaders had the same message for the 50 million residents in its path: go home and stay there.

“It will be like a tidal wave of snow,” predicted Henry Margusity, a meteorologist with AccuWeather forecasting company, while the National Weather Service described the storm as “life-threatening”. Some regions were expected to be battered by “thundersnow” with thunder and lightning accompanying intense downpours of snow.

All commuter train lines into New York were to be closed down on Monday night and a sharply reduced service was planned for subway trains as carriages and engines were moved into tunnels to prepare for Tuesday, officials said.

Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor, ordered all non-essential traffic off the streets indefinitely to leave the roads free for fleets of snow ploughs and sanitation teams as well police and emergency vehicles.

Schools across the region sent pupils home early and in preparation for closure on Tuesday, while parks were closed because of the fears of falling trees and branches. As snow started falling on Monday morning, airlines pre-emptively cancelled more than 6,000 flights scheduled for later on Monday and Tuesday, effectively cutting air links to two major cities.

Sports games were cancelled and the United Nations headquarters closed for business on Monday afternoon. As they headed home, many residents heeded the advice to stock up on supplies at groceries and home goods stores as items ranging from bottled water to spades sold out across the region.

“Insanity,” said Ian Joskowitz, the chief executive of the Westside Market in Manhattan as he described the queues to buy bread, milk, batteries and other essentials. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was mayhem.”

In New York, the heaviest snowfall in history was recorded in 2006, with totals of 26.9 inches in Central Park, while in Boston the record fall was 27.5 inches in 2013.

“This could be one of the top two or three largest storms in the history of this city,” said Mr de Blasio. “My message to New Yorkers is to prepare for something worse than we have seen before.”

The full scale of the chaos was expected to emerge on Tuesday with the inevitable after-effect of flooding certain to pose a new danger. Power outages expected to hit tens of thousands of residents will last for days, experts warned.

Coastal New England is expected to suffer some of the worst damage as pounding surf and waves driven by the powerful winds surge ashore, flooding vulnerable roads and homes: “This storm has enough intensity that it could cause new inlets to be formed along barrier beaches,” the weather service in Boston warned.

Charities and city authorities that operate homeless shelters stockpiled blankets, fold-away beds and food and volunteers were dispatched to the streets to try to persuade people living rough to seek refuge from the storm.