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Winter Storm Stresses Energy Infrastructures Along The East Coast


Meteorologists are calling it a bomb cyclone - a powerful winter storm that dumped as much as a foot and a half of snow along parts of the East Coast. The winds created blizzard-like conditions. Schools and government offices closed. Airlines canceled thousands of flights. NPR's Jeff Brady is in Philadelphia. And Jeff, this does not sound like just your average winter storm. What does it look like there?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: No, it is not. It snowed steady all day long here in Philadelphia. We got about 4 to 6 inches of snow kind of depending on where in the city you are. Other places, though, got a lot more. New Jersey on the shore - the New Jersey Shore - got up to 18 inches of snow in some places. Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency in three counties there. In New England - also hit very hard by this storm. Eastern Massachusetts in the Boston area - there were reports of snow falling at 3 inches per hour. And then they had the 70-mile-per-hour winds on top of that.

And one of the big concerns up there is, along the coast in Massachusetts, storm surge and flooding. I saw some photos from the town of Barnstable that showed the harbor there. It was just this swirling, gray mess. So a lot of people spent the day kind of holed up in their homes. Boston's mayor - he said he wished more people would have done that. He said crews were out wasting time rescuing drivers who decided to venture out. Statewide, though, Christopher Besse with the Massachusetts Energy Management Agency (ph) said most people did avoid travel today.

CHRISTOPHER BESSE: It's a great help, you know? It not only keeps people home and safe, but it allows the plows room to do their work, too. So we, you know, appreciate the public's cooperation. And it's not a day that people want to be driving around if they don't have to - and definitely encourage people to stay home.

SHAPIRO: Of course some people did have to travel today. What has that been like, Jeff?

BRADY: It's a mess. The roads - crews really struggled to keep them clear. Some accidents shut down a - freeway lanes in a few places. In North Carolina, authorities said three people were killed when their cars slid off of snow-covered roads. And the airports - flights were suspended for a while at JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York because of whiteout conditions. By this afternoon, about 4,000 flights have been canceled because of the storm.

SHAPIRO: When you talk about 70-mile-an-hour winds, have we seen a lot of people losing power?

BRADY: You know, the regional power grid has held up pretty well. There were no widespread outages so far. But grid operators are monitoring things very closely. One issue is the people who deliver heating oil and propane. They were taking a lot of calls and trying to, you know, make deliveries in this weather. The federal government lifted some rules and allowed the truck drivers who deliver that heating oil and propane to work overtime to make sure people get the fuel they need to stay warm.

SHAPIRO: We first heard about the storm hitting the southeastern United States yesterday when there was snow in places like Tallahassee and Savannah that haven't seen snow in years. What are conditions there like now?

BRADY: Yeah, I called people around the South to kind of check things out - still some - quite a few effects from the storm today. In Mississippi, for instance, the cold weather was causing problems with the local water system in the capital of Jackson. And at the Capitol, some of the toilets actually wouldn't flush. They've had some problems with their water system there, and they've installed those portable toilets outside for people to use. So that makes an - I guess an uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable.

It is warming up, though, in some places. In Charleston, S.C., this is relatively warmer. They got more than 5 inches of snow yesterday. But we talked with a few kids who were trying to make a snow man. They didn't have a carrot, by the way, you know, for the nose.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BRADY: So they were using icicles for the nose. Here's one of those children, Skylar Schneider.

SKYLAR SCHNEIDER: The ice is melting so fast. Like, these icicles were, like, twice the size they are now just, like, 10 minutes ago 'cause it's all melting so fast.

BRADY: So a few people having fun there but a lot of difficulties for a lot of people.

SHAPIRO: Associated Press reports that in Florida, frozen iguanas are falling out of trees.


SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BRADY: Extraordinary.

SHAPIRO: What does the forecast look like from here?

BRADY: Well, the snow is starting to let up. But now we have some really cold temperatures that are going to be setting in. Even here in Philadelphia, we don't see this too often, but we're going to have lows in the single digits and highs in the teens - so a few cold days ahead of us.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jeff Brady covering the bomb cyclone from his base in Philadelphia. Thanks, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.