Winter storm blasts East Coast; thousands of flights canceled

Winter Storm Stella blasted up the East Coast Tuesday, providing much of the region with its biggest snowfall of the winter. Here is what you need to know:

The latest forecast

The late-season snowstorm continued to dump snow, sleet and freezing rain from the Carolinas to New England Tuesday, including many of the big cities in the Northeast U.S., the National Weather Service said. Blizzard warnings and winter storm warnings remain in effect for heavy snowfall accumulations from the northern Mid Atlantic through the Northeast U.S., with some areas from eastern Pennsylvania to southern New England likely getting in excess of a foot.

The storm has closed schools in many cities and towns and has prompted dire warnings to stay off the roads.

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Coastal flooding is also possible from the system.

The Weather Channel is calling the system Stella as part of its winter storm naming system. No other private firms, nor the weather service, use this name.

Snow vs. ice

Many areas are getting less snow than predicted, but in its place is a messy mix of sleet and freezing rain, which has led to downed trees and power lines and caused power outages in some areas.

Ice coated the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., the Capital Weather Gang tweeted.

CWG's Kevin Ambrose is at the Tidal Basin and says ice covers the cherry blossoms. Storm updates: https://t.co/wuM0TkJR4y pic.twitter.com/zwjK8tbQfP

— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) March 14, 2017

Sleet and freezing rain forms due to a "warm-air sandwich" in the atmosphere above our heads. Precipitation starts as snow in the cold layer at the top, then melts to rain as it falls through the warm layer, then refreezes into sleet or freezing rain as it falls through the cold layer near the surface.

Headaches for air travelers

As of Tuesday morning, airlines canceled 7,746 flights this week, disrupting travel plans for 400,000 passengers, according to FlightAware.com, an online tracking service.

More than 80% of the schedules in New York and Boston, and half the flights to and from Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia were canceled Tuesday, according to FlightAware. Plans for Wednesday are still fluid, with more than 600 cancelations already.

“The vast majority of flights to/from New York City and Boston are cancelled today,” FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker said, referring to Tuesday.

"Anybody looking to travel on Tuesday, whether by land or air, will find it difficult or impossible in many places," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines warned.

What happens next?

Sorry, spring lovers. After the storm exits, a second blast of arctic air will keep the eastern half of the nation in its clutches for the rest of the week. “Winter will hold a tight grip on the Northeast in wake of the significant snowstorm early this week,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Max Vido said. Blowing snow could also complicate road crews' work.

The nor'easter comes a week after the region saw temperatures climb into the 60s, and less than a week before the official start of spring.

Contributing: Bart Jansen, USA TODAY; Associated Press

(© 2017 USA TODAY)


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