Winter is back in a big way
A stinging blizzard packing gale-force winds and sheets of lashing snow pummeled Massachusetts on Thursday, driving people indoors and off the streets where many had strolled in springlike temperatures the day before.
As much as 18 inches of snow fell in Massachusetts as the biggest storm of the winter so far left tens of thousands of people without power, canceled hundreds of flights at Logan Airport, and turned many roads into a hazardous mess.
“Boston doesn’t know when to stop with this weather,” said Calvonni Elliott, a 19-year-old from South Boston, as he trudged to the subway after work.
More than 50,000 customers had lost electricity in the state by 6 p.m. Thursday, with Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts bearing the brunt of the outages. By midafternoon, 95 percent of customers in Provincetown had lost power. In Yarmouth, the figure was 100 percent, said Deputy Police Chief Steven Xiarhos.
“It happened quick,” Xiarhos said. “Roads are bad, wires are down, trees are down. No one should be driving.”
In Gloucester, whiteout conditions caused plow drivers to temporarily curtail clearing the roads about 4 p.m. Visibility was poor, and snow was piling up faster than crews could remove it, according to the Gloucester Fire Department.
At Logan Airport, more than 680 arrivals and departures were grounded, representing about 65 percent of the flights scheduled for Thursday, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
Despite the cancellations, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority said the agency did not plan to close the airport. Crews were scheduled to work through the night to clear snow from the airfield and prepare for a regular schedule on Friday.
Schools closed their doors throughout the state’s hard-hit areas, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said city schools would remain shut Friday.
“We’d rather be safe with our children than not,’’ Walsh said at a City Hall news conference.
By Thursday evening, the storm had not resulted in serious injuries or deaths, but New England steeled for plunging temperatures overnight and wind-chill readings below zero.
A state-high 18 inches of snow had fallen on the central Massachusetts town of Ludlow. Randolph reported 13 inches, Mansfield logged 16.5, and Peabody had 11. Boston had a total of 10.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Nantucket reported the highest winds in the state — 68 miles per hour. A burst of 55 miles per hour was reported at the Blue Hills observatory in Milton.
Elsewhere, the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth shut down at 8 a.m. Thursday as a preemptive measure. The facility had been operating at only 30 percent of capacity since Monday, after officials found sea water leaking into one of the plant’s condenser tubes.
On the MBTA, which had been crippled during the big snowstorms of 2015, service was relatively smooth on a day when only 10 percent of the typical ridership used commuter rail and just 25 percent took the subways, said the agency’s chief administrator, Brian Shortsleeve.
T officials reported no significant delays and said work crews would be removing snow from the rails overnight before the Friday morning commute. The relatively problem-free day was due to an overhaul of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s ability to function in snow, Shortsleeve said.
“We’ve been working toward this for two years and invested over $100 million in the system,” Shortsleeve said.
The T deployed 400 pieces of snow-fighting equipment, including third-rail heaters, anti-icing trains, and jet-powered snowblowers on the Red and Orange lines, Shortsleeve said.
No major accidents were reported in Massachusetts, although the snow caused plenty of spinouts and treacherous driving, said State Police spokesman David Procopio. The state highway administrator, Thomas Tinlin, credited the public for listening to Governor Charlie Baker and other officials who urged them to stay off the roads.
Tinlin said the storm moved quickly from west to east — “a sprint, not a marathon” — as the state mobilized 3,700 pieces of snow-fighting equipment to clear the roads in a rolling progression from the Berkshires to Boston and the Cape and Islands.
“This was a real challenging storm. It’s everything you would see in a blizzard, but in a really short time,” Tinlin said. “People really listened and stayed off the road.”
In New Bedford, Mayor Jonathan Mitchell said the city received about a foot of snow in five hours. “The struggle has been to simply keep up,” he said.
A blizzard carries sustained or frequent winds of at least 35 miles per hour and no more than a quarter-mile of visibility for three consecutive hours.
Along the shoreline in Plymouth, the snow was falling horizontally at a clip that made it difficult to see beyond 75 feet in midafternoon. The seas raged beyond the barrier beach that protects the harbor, which had long been emptied of recreational boats.
Farther north, just outside the harbor in Scituate, ferocious winds carved scalloped whitecaps on the ocean. Two well-bundled adventure-seekers leaned into the storm and headed for the icy sea wall beyond the town’s lighthouse.
A spokesman for Eversource, the utility company, said Thursday that he expected power outages to be concentrated most heavily on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard because of the intensity of winds there.
The utility was calling in workers from other areas, said Michael Durand, the Eversource spokesman. He cautioned that some areas might be without power overnight.
For some people, the storm brought wonder instead of worry. On Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, cars lined up to watch waves crash against the shore as snow banged into the windshields.
“There’s something invigorating about seeing Mother Nature do this,” said Cindy Coyne, 68, of Sandwich. “It’s doing what it does best. Can’t beat that.”
Coyne drove to Town Neck with her 98-year-old mother, Viola Pike. Usually, Coyne said, there’s barely a ripple in the water.
“Oh, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful,” Pike said from the passenger seat. “It’s exciting.”
People walked along the sand to take pictures before the elements forced them to retreat. Watching from the parking lot, 67-year-old Ben Losordo of Sandwich, a real estate lawyer, finished a sandwich.
His office had just lost power, Losordo said. But he was prepared at home with wood, a generator, and enough gas to get him through the day.
Elena Smith drove to the beach with her friend Marissa Keene, both 17 and seniors at Sandwich High School. They marveled at the scene.
“The only time we see waves like this is during a blizzard,” Smith said.
Later, after their adventure, the pair planned to ride out the rest of the storm indoors. Their survival kit: a bunch of brownies and the movie “Titanic.”