(Bloomberg) --A potentially record-breaking nor’easter began pummeling the U.S. East Coast with wind, snow and rain Friday, grounding more than 1,800 flights and putting billions of dollars of coastal real estate at risk from “unprecedented flooding.”
Wind-driven rain gave way to snow by 8 a.m. in New York City, while heavy flakes were already falling Upstate and in Pennsylvania and northern New England. Wind gusts of more than 60 miles per hour were reported at Washington National and Dulles airports, the National Weather Service said. Steady tropical-storm strength winds were recorded in Boston.
While the wind and the snow are fierce, coastal flooding could be the worst aspect of the storm.
“This could be one of those storms that goes into the record books,” said Kim Buttrick, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “This is a very dangerous storm.”
In January, a powerful storm drove tides in Massachusetts to their highest ever, flooding parts of Boston as well as its northern and southern suburbs. That record might fall by Saturday, Buttrick said. A combination of rising seas, higher than normal tides because of the full moon, and the power of the storm itself could drive tides higher off Boston and along the Massachusetts coast.
“We already had tidal flooding yesterday and that was just because of the full moon,” said Rob Carolan, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, New Hampshire.
The storm is also hampering airlines: more than 1,800 flights have been canceled around the U.S. Friday, according to FlightAware, an airline-tracking service. American Airlines Group Inc. scrubbed 850 flights, or 13 percent of its daily global schedule, in the Northeast because of the storm, the company said in an emailed statement. Delta Air Lines Inc. has grounded about 300 trips into the region.
More than 425,000 homes and businesses were without power in eastern U.S. states from North Carolina to Massachusetts, according to data from utility websites compiled by Bloomberg at about 8 a.m. on Friday.
Among the hardest-hit was Dominion Energy Inc.’s Virginia utility with more than 160,000 customers blacked out. Exelon Corp.’s Pepco utility, which serves the nation’s capital, reported about 33,000 customers without power.
The slow speed of the storm will make matters worse, Carolan said. Its progress will be blocked by other weather patterns, preventing it from moving quickly out to sea.
Tides could rise 3 feet higher-than-normal in Jamaica Bay in Queens and along southern Long Island. In Massachusetts, they could rise by as much as 4 feet, including in Boston Harbor. Waves higher than 20 feet could crash into coastal towns north and south of Boston and on Cape Cod, washing out roads, damaging homes and leaving people stranded “for an extended time,” the National Weather Service said.
In addition to the coastal flooding, heavy rain may send rivers over their banks, the weather service said.
Buttrick said residents should heed evacuation notices and no one should go sightseeing. “We don’t want any casualties,” she said.