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Winter storm hits Northeast, causing difficult driving, closed schools and canceled flights

By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
Published: February 13, 2024, 10:15am

HARTFORD, Conn. — Parts of the Northeast U.S. were hit Tuesday by a snowstorm that canceled and delayed flights, made roads slippery and prompted many school districts to cancel classes or switch to remote learning —- or at least try to switch.

In New York City, the online learning system that serves the nation’s largest school district experienced technical problems first thing in the morning, preventing many of the 915,000 students from logging in.

More than 1,000 flights were canceled so far Tuesday morning, mostly at the airports in the New York City area and in Boston. Accidents were reported across the region, and several states were banning tandem and empty tractor-trailers from highways.

“It’s been a quiet winter, so it’s kind of welcoming,” Ricky Smith said about the snow as he made his way to a construction job in New York City. “I just hope nobody gets hurt.”

The city’s decision to push ahead with remote learning instead of declaring a snow day drew criticism from many parents and students, and the problems with the online system exacerbated the discontent. School officials said they were working to fix the issue, which they said involved authentication services.

Chong Bretillon, a parent in Queens, said she received repeated errors as she tried to gain entry to a Zoom room for her elementary school student, while messaging with dozens of other parents who were encountering the same problems.

“I just spent almost an hour trying to log in and log out,” Bretillon said. “Everyone’s frustrated.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams defended the decision to go remote in the schools, saying it was necessary because of learning losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The highest snowfall totals, around 8 inches (20 centimeters) and possibly more in some locations, were expected from the northern New York City suburbs to Connecticut, Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) and some coastal flooding were possible along the Massachusetts coast.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont ordered all executive branch office buildings closed to the public for the day, and all state courts were closed.

Susan Smith was spending the day with her three children, ages 14, 11 and 8, at her home in Columbia, Connecticut, because schools were closed. She said she likes traditional snow days off, but would also like to see remote learning on some bad weather days.

“But I still remember being a kid and really looking forward to snow days, so I don’t want to completely wipe that off the map with remote learning,” Smith said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation temporarily reduced the speed limit on several interstates to 45 mph (72 kph) in the east-central region of the state because of the storm.

“Simply put, conditions are extremely poor,” The Doylestown Township Police Department posted. “Most roads are snow covered and slick. Please stay home unless absolutely necessary.”

Ahead of the storm, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey told all non-essential Executive Branch employees to not report to work Tuesday. Boston schools were closing and a parking ban was in effect until 4 p.m. Similar closures and bans were put in place in other cities and towns. Emergency officials had equipment in place to help keep roads clear.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the city’s homeless shelters would remain open.

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee signed an executive order shuttering state government offices Tuesday and banning tractor-trailer travel on all interstates and state roads beginning at midnight. McKee said he issued the tractor-trailer ban in coordination with Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

Airports in the region asked travelers to check with their airlines in case of cancellations and delays.

Power companies said they were ready to respond to possible outages that could occur because of trees and branches falling onto electricity lines. There were more than 145,000 outages reported Tuesday morning in Pennsylvania, but few outages in New York and New England, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

“The hazardous conditions can also make travel challenging for our crews, so we’re staging extra staff and equipment across the state to ensure we’re ready to respond as quickly as possible,” said Steve Sullivan, Eversource’s president of Connecticut electric operations.

At a news conference, New York City officials said that despite the snow predictions, they had no plans to relocate people from several large, heated tent shelter complexes built for thousands of homeless migrants.

In the South, flood watches covered much of Alabama and parts of central Georgia on Monday. Up to 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) of rain was expected in parts of Georgia and Alabama, the National Weather Service warned.

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