Thanksgiving leftovers: Storm serves U.S. Northeast second helping of snow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A vast wintry storm that has been raging across the United States since before Thanksgiving served a second helping of snow to the Northeast on Monday, closing offices and threatening to disrupt the evening rush-hour commute.

Alternating rain and snow showers were forecast to switch completely to snow, piling up by the workday’s end to 1 to 3 inches in New York and 4 to 6 inches in Boston, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Heavier snow totals were expected in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and Maine, with some areas already receiving 1 foot of snow, Oravec said.

“When it’s all said and done, some areas will have over 2 feet of snow from this storm, especially over parts of the Poconos and Catskills,” Oravec said of the mountain regions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all non-essential state employees in the capital region to stay home on Monday. State offices in New Jersey opened as usual on Monday, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said all non-essential workers should head home at noon due to weather conditions.

Travel glitches on U.S. flights began mounting throughout the morning, with most of the 1,500 cancellations and delays posted by late morning at airports in San Francisco, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Newark.

The storm that started on the West Coast ahead of Thanksgiving, the busiest U.S. travel holiday, slowly rolled across the entire country, drenching some areas with rain, blanketing others with snow and blasting still others with winds. Three tornadoes were reported northwest of Phoenix.

“It’s uncommon to have a tornado in Phoenix, but it’s not uncommon to have multiple types of weather with a big winter storm like that,” Oravec said.

The storm was expected to linger in New York until just before sunrise on Tuesday, in Boston until early Tuesday afternoon and in Maine until Wednesday morning.

“There have been huge impacts from the storm since it occurred during the Thanksgiving week of travel and coming home from the holiday,” Oravec said.

“It hit about possibly the worst time it could hit, and it went right across the entire country.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Snow storm pounds U.S. Northeast, closing schools, snarling commutes

A man takes shelter as snow falls in Times Square in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The second winter storm in a week will continue to dump wet, heavy snow on New England on Thursday, forcing schools to close and leaving hundreds of thousands without power as it promised to slow the morning commute across the region.

A foot (30 cm) of snow and fierce wind gusts of up to 55 miles per hour (88 km/h) were expected from eastern New York through northern Maine on Thursday after the storm slammed the region on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said in several watches and warnings.

Up to 2 feet of snow accumulation was expected in some inland parts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts and 18 inches was possible in Maine.

Boston public schools along with dozens of schools throughout New England canceled classes on Thursday as local officials and forecasters warned commuters of whiteout conditions and slick roads.

“With snow removal efforts underway, motorists are asked to stay off roads, stay home and stay safe,” the Boston Police Department said on Twitter.

Amtrak suspended passenger train services between New York City and Boston until at least 10 a.m. local time and canceled dozens of routes on Thursday.

Two dozen flights were already canceled early on Thursday morning after about half of all scheduled flights were canceled at the three major airports serving New York City on Wednesday.

The website said more than 2,100 flights had been delayed and 2,700 canceled, most of them in the Northeast, as of 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

The dense snow and strong winds downed trees and power lines, knocking power out for hundreds of thousands in New England and the Mid Atlantic, according to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks outages.

“4am, no power (no heat), waiting for a text from work to say “we will be closed today”. Fingers crossed!” tweeted Jessica Squeglia in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy ordered many state workers to head home early on Wednesday afternoon at staggered intervals to avoid traffic snarls on slippery roads.

The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania declared states of emergency, giving them access to support from the U.S. government if needed.

Last week’s storm brought major coastal flooding to Massachusetts, killed at least nine people and knocked out power to about 2.4 million homes and businesses in the Northeast.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Windy rainstorm whips U.S. Northeast, cutting power to hundreds of thousands

Storm Summary has been initialized for the deep low pressure system which is bringing damaging winds, heavy rain across the Northeast, even some snow over West Virginia.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Fierce winds and heavy rain downed trees and knocked out power across the U.S. Northeast, halting trains during the Monday morning commute and leaving neighborhoods from Boston to Washington in the dark.

Wind gusts of 82 miles (131.97 km) per hour were reported on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, while steady rain from Sunday into Monday dumped up to 4 inches (10.16 cm) of water across New England, said National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“There has been quite a bit of wind, and when the ground gets wet like this, trees fall,” Chenard said.

Amtrak train service between Boston and New Haven, Connecticut, was suspended early on Monday as crews scrambled to clear branches and restore power, authorities said.

Connecticut commuters piled onto buses or sought alternative routes after Metro-North Railroad suspended service on its New Canaan line and on its Danbury line, which it said on Twitter was hampered by a mudslide and related signal problems.

More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost electricity overnight throughout the Northeast, including about 300,000 customers in Massachusetts, 270,000 in New Hampshire, 142,000 in Rhode Island, 30,000 on New York’s Long Island, 56,000 in Maine and 35,000 in Vermont, according to local media.

Early on Monday, traffic lights in parts of Washington remained dark due to power outages.

The storm hit the East Coast on the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. That late-season hurricane killed at least 159 people in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, and damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes.

The National Weather Service said the heaviest rains and winds ended late on Monday morning, but lighter precipitation and some gusts would persist throughout the day.

“The biggest potential now is for more trees to come down and for minor-to-moderate river flooding in eastern New York and much of New England today into tomorrow,” Chenard said.

It was not immediately known how long it would be until power is fully restored.

 

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Drowning in debt, Connecticut faces budget crunch

FILE PHOTO: The Connecticut State Capitol pictured here in Bushnell Park, Hartford, Connecticut, U.S., August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Hilary Russ

By Hilary Russ

HARTFORD (Reuters) – Connecticut, home to hedge fund billionaires alongside cities mired in poverty, is racing against the clock to pass a budget or face further spending cuts to education and municipal aid across the state.

Nearly two months without a budget, Connecticut is getting crushed by a burdensome debt load that has squeezed spending and amplified legislative discord.

State lawmakers must agree on a biennial budget soon or else Governor Dannel Malloy’s executive order to slash state aid to municipalities and eliminate school funding for some districts will go into effect in October. The state faces a $3.5 billion deficit over the next two years.

Among the wealthiest in the United States, Connecticut has been strained by already high taxes, outmigration, falling revenues and $50 billion of unfunded pension liabilities.

Some $23 billion of outstanding municipal debt has also constrained spending. Bondholders must be paid ahead of most other expenses like non-essential services and payments to vendors.

The $2.85 billion of principal and interest the state paid on its bonds in fiscal 2017 was the highest in six years, according to preliminary unaudited information from State Treasurer Denise Nappier’s office that has not yet been published.

“The state invested in the wrong things for a period of time. It allowed its higher educational institutions to suffer while it sought to placate communities with respect to other forms of local reimbursement,” Malloy told Reuters during an interview in his office on Thursday.

“We built too many prisons, which we’re still paying off even while we’re closing them,” he said. The Democrat took office in 2011 and is not seeking a third term.

Further, the state’s budget crunch is threatening its cities including the state capital of Hartford, which is considering bankruptcy due, in part, to its dependence on state aid.

Connecticut has borrowed for decades to fund school construction, whereas nearly all other states typically borrow at the local level for those projects.

Lack of county governments means some other local costs are picked up by the state, including for all of its detention facilities.

Connecticut has piled on debt to bolster its public pensions, selling $2.3 billion of bonds in April 2008.

And again in December 2009, the state sold $916 million of economic recovery notes to close a budget deficit after depleting its rainy day fund during the Great Recession.

By many measures, Connecticut’s debt levels are the worst of the 50 U.S. states.

It has the most net tax-supported state debt per capita in the nation at $6,505, versus a median of $1,006, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

It has the highest debt service costs as a portion of state revenues, as well as debt relative to gross domestic product, Moody’s said.

Connecticut was downgraded by all three major Wall Street credit rating agencies in May.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature have proposed solutions, including a hard cap on annual bond sales.

Democratic legislators met with Millstein & Co., the same restructuring firm that advised Puerto Rico over its suffocating debt burden, according to The Connecticut Mirror newspaper.

Nappier proposed a new tax-secured revenue bond program in lieu of general obligation debt, which she says will lower borrowing costs and boost reserves.

But until lawmakers craft a budget, the state’s fiscal uncertainty is causing havoc among municipalities. Some are considering whether to delay the start of school or dip into reserves.

And for Hartford, the longer the state goes without a budget, the closer the city comes to a possible bankruptcy filing, said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, a 38-year-old former U.S. Treasury official.

“The lack of a state budget… makes a liquidity challenge come that much faster,” he said.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in Hartford; Editing by Daniel Bases and Diane Craft)

Connecticut may become first U.S. state to allow deadly police drones

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Connecticut would become the first U.S. state to allow law enforcement agencies to use drones equipped with deadly weapons if a bill opposed by civil libertarians becomes law.

The legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature’s judiciary committee on Wednesday, would ban so-called weaponized drones in the state but exempts agencies involved in law enforcement. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The legislation was introduced as a complete ban on weaponized drones but just before the committee vote it was amended to exclude police from the restriction.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, was reviewing the proposal, “however in previous years he has not supported this concept,” spokesman Chris Collibee wrote in an email.

Civil libertarians and civil rights activists are lobbying to restore the bill to its original language before the full House vote.

“Data shows police force is disproportionately used on minority communities, and we believe that armed drones would be used in urban centers and on minority communities,” said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut.

“That’s not the kind of precedent we want to set here,” McGuire said of the prospect that Connecticut would become the first state to allow police to use lethally armed drones.

In 2015, North Dakota became the first state to permit law enforcement agencies to use armed drones but limited them to “less than lethal” weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray.

So far, 36 states have enacted laws restricting drones and an additional four states have adopted drone limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

If Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled House passes the bill it will move to the Senate, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Representative William Tong, a Democrat from Stamford, nor Senator John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield, who are co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, were not immediately available for comment.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and James Dalgleish)

U.S. Northeast braces for late winter blizzard

A woman is seen through a snow soaked car window walking in the snow at Cunningham Park in the borough of Queens in New York, U.S.

By Chris Michaud and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Forecasters put the U.S. East Coast from New York City to Boston on a blizzard watch starting as early as Monday night, with authorities warning residents to prepare for the possibility of widespread power outages, road closures and flight disruptions.

Weather experts predicted the region could see 12 to 18 inches of wind-blasted snow from Monday to early Wednesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced preparations for the so-called Nor’easter storm, activating the state Emergency Operations Center as of Monday night while also directing state agencies to be on heightened alert.

“I encourage all New Yorkers in affected regions to plan ahead and avoid any unnecessary travel as the storm progresses,” Cuomo said in a statement, adding that commuters should expect road closures, delays and cancellations.

The storm also raised the potential for power outages with damaging winds across eastern Long Island and southeastern Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

Significant disruption to air travel in the region was also anticipated with the storm.

Blowing snow and strong winds could lead to whiteout conditions with visibility as poor as a quarter mile, the service said. Sub-freezing temperatures were forecast in the upper 20s Fahrenheit.

New York City issued a snow alert for Monday night into Tuesday, expecting snowfall rates of up to 2 to 4 inches per hour Tuesday morning and afternoon, with gusts of up to 50 mph.

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned New Yorkers that “besides the snow, it will be cold,” while officials recommended that people avoid driving and use mass transit when possible.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was installing hundreds of pieces of snow equipment at the three New York area airports. Thousands of tons of salt and sand were prepared for airport roads, parking lots, bridges and tunnels.

As some 50 million people along the Eastern Seaboard came under storm or blizzard watches, Washington, D.C., which often bogs down with even low levels of snow, was expecting 5 inches and twice that in outlying areas.

The storm comes near the end of an unusually mild winter along much of the East Coast, with below-normal snowfalls in some areas, including New York City and Washington. It was the warmest February on record in nearly the entire area, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Last week in New York, temperatures hovered near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Accuweather.com, hitting 60 or higher on six days in February.

Meanwhile, in the western United States, the weather service forecast potentially record-setting heat in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, where temperatures were expected into the 90s in some places.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Randy Fabi)

Tremors in U.S. Northeast caused by sonic boom, not quake: USGS

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Residents from New Jersey to Connecticut reported feeling earthquake-like shaking on Thursday afternoon, but U.S. seismologists said the vibrations were likely the result of a series of sonic booms.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors earthquake activity, said no quake had struck. The agency reported at least nine sonic booms had been recorded over 90 minutes starting at 1:24 p.m. near Hammonton, New Jersey, about 35 miles southeast of Philadelphia.

On Twitter, users said they felt several tremors, particularly in southern New Jersey.

It was not immediately clear what had caused the sonic booms, which are generated by airplanes traveling in the air faster than the speed of sound.

Some news reports suggested that military aircraft from McGuire Air Force Base, approximately 35 miles north of Hammonton, were the likely source.

But the McGuire base said on Twitter that its training ranges were clear on Thursday and that none of its aircraft are capable of creating sonic booms. In a subsequent post, the base said it was working with local authorities to determine a cause.

Seismologists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York also confirmed that no earthquake had occurred in the region and that they had measured vibrations and low-frequency sound waves consistent with about eight sonic booms from approximately 1:20 p.m. to 2:40 p.m.

Won-Young Kim, a research professor at the observatory, said residents on the ground likely would not have heard the booms but would have experienced 15 to 20 seconds of shaking during each one.

The tremors produced numerous emergency calls to local police departments, some of which took to Twitter to ask residents not to flood their emergency lines with any more reports.

No damage was immediately reported.

Some Twitter users offered a lighthearted response. One person using the handle @VixenRogue quipped: “Aliens are invading New Jersey. What’s the best way to let them know the other 49 states are just fine with this?”

The reports came two days after residents in Charleston, South Carolina, said they felt tremors. The shaking was likely caused by sonic booms from F-18 fighter jets on a training run from a nearby military base, according to media reports.

Sonic booms are often mistaken for seismic activity, according to the USGS website.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay and Sandra Maler)

Untreatable Tick Borne Virus Found in Connecticut

An untreatable tick-borne disease has been found in parts of southern Connecticut.

The Powassan virus is similar to Lyme disease with headache, nausea and fever.  Unlike Lyme disease that can be easily treated with antibiotics, Powassan virus can often be fatal.

The virus impacts the central nervous system and causes encephalitis and meningitis.

Dr. Theodore Andreadis of the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station, told WCBS that fortunately there has not yet been a human case of the disease in the area.  However, the fact ticks in the region carry the disease could be a serious threat to hikers and anyone who is close to a wooded area.

“These ticks will transmit this virus when they feed within a matter of hours, whereas with Lyme disease, for example, ticks generally have to feed up to two days before they’re capable of transmitting it,” Andreadis told WCBS 880.

Twelve cases of the disease were found in the U.S. in 2013, the last year statistics for the disease have been published by the CDC.

Connecticut Debates Physician Assisted Suicide

A new proposal in the Connecticut legislature would legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state.

A public hearing was held last week to debate the matter.  One of the pro-death speakers was Rep. Kelly Luxenberg (D-Manchester) whose father committed suicide by drowning himself after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“He never learned to swim and was intensely fearful of the water. So there is an even sadder irony in the way in which he chose to die,” she told the Judiciary Committee and those gathered. “Parkinson’s stripped my father of a life with dignity. Wouldn’t it have been great if in death his dignity could have been regained?”

Pro-life speakers also had their say before the Committee.

“People with disabilities, advocates against elder abuse are rightly concerned that the ‘right to die’ could become a ‘duty to die,’” Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut told those gathered.

“Is it acceptable for someone’s life to be shortened because people may be actually on a wrong prognosis, or because they have been pressed to make this final move?” asked Cathy Ludlum of Second Thoughts Connecticut, who is disabled.

The bill would allow a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to the patient who would then ingest it on their own to end their life after submitting two requests to a physician and having two witnesses unrelated to the patient review the case and be present for the administration of the procedure.

Connecticut Rocked by Earthquake

The fans of the New England Patriots celebrating their team’s hosting of the AFC Championship Game this weekend weren’t the only thing causing the ground to shake in New England.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that a series of five earthquakes rocked eastern Connecticut area on Monday.  The strongest quake, magnitude 3.1, was felt in parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The USGS says that four of the quakes struck in a 20 minute span starting around 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

John Ebel, senior research scientists at the Western Observatory told WCVB-TV the quakes are not as unusual as you would think for that area.  He stated there is a tectonic plate from the West Coast to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

He said the quakes are caused by pressure being rleleased from those two boundaries.