HARTFORD, Conn. – A quick-moving winter storm battered cities in the Northeast with snowfall, sending huge waves crashing into the New England coastline and forcing New York City schools into glitch-filled remote learning reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic.
Airlines canceled or delayed flights while accidents were reported on slippery roads, and at least one person died.
The storm quickly passed through the region, producing snowfall totals that were significant in some cities but much less than expected in others. New York City recorded just 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) of snow in Central Park, but areas of Pennsylvania and Connecticut were blanketed with 15 inches (38.10 centimeters) of fluffy snow, according to National Weather Service reports.
“It’s been a quiet winter, so it’s kind of welcoming,” Ricky Smith said as he made his way to a construction job in New York City. “I just hope nobody gets hurt.”
In New York City, the nation's largest school district opted to shift to remote learning instead of giving students and staff a snow day, sparking criticism by many. And when classes began, technical problems prevented many of the 915,000 students from logging in, exacerbating the discontent.
PS 112 in East Harlem had a promising start to its virtual school day with a schoolwide read-aloud, teacher Jessica Roach said. But the rest of the morning, when teachers and families tried to access the district’s domain, cascading technical problems confused her young special education students and inconvenienced their parents.
“A lot of kids lost out because of technical issues,” she said.
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.
School officials blamed the troubles on IBM, with Schools Chancellor David Banks saying the company “was not ready for primetime.”
IBM said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it worked with the schools and the issues “were largely resolved,” but the company did not immediately respond to questions about what specifically happened and why. City officials said there were problems with authentication services.
More than 1,000 flights were canceled Tuesday morning, mostly at the airports in the New York City area and in Boston. Accidents were reported across the region and several states banned tandem and empty tractor-trailers from highways.
There were more than 145,000 power outages reported Tuesday morning in Pennsylvania and several thousand in New Jersey, but few outages in New York and New England, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.
Authorities in Newberry Township, Pennsylvania, said a man operating a snowmobile was killed when he hit a downed utility line around 8 a.m. Tuesday during the storm. The cause and manner of death were pending further investigation.
At the time of the crash, police said in a statement that the area was “experiencing a multitude of weather related conditions due to a winter storm which caused downed trees, downed power lines and hazardous travel conditions throughout the area.”
Robert Bylone, 51, a university research operations manager from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, was at home around 6 a.m. Tuesday when he heard a “splintering crack” outside his window. A 30-year-old flowering pear tree in his front yard had come down.
“We anticipated a snow storm, and sure enough, we got it," he said. "But it was quick, very wet with a lot of moisture in the snow. So with that much water in the snow, it was very heavy. Very heavy to pick up, very heavy on the tree branches.“
Throughout the region, officials urged people to take precautions including staying off the roads.
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.
Ahead of the storm, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey told all non-essential Executive Branch employees to not report to work Tuesday. Boston schools were closed and a parking ban was in effect until 4 p.m. Similar closures and bans were put in place in other cities and towns.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the city’s homeless shelters would remain open.
Along the Plymouth, Massachusetts waterfront, residents sat in their vehicles marveling at the waves crashing ashore as a mix of rain and snow lashed their vehicles. Some spots began to flood as high tide approached early Tuesday afternoon.
“I enjoy the weather a lot today,” said Marissa O’Keefe, who was with a friend in an SUV along the waterfront. “I’m kind of happy our boss gave us the day off so we can enjoy the way the waves are moving. Whether the snow comes or it just rains, I’m excited by nature’s power.”
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.
Associated Press writers Jake Offenhartz and Philip Marcelo in New York; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Pat Eaton-Robb in Columbia, Connecticut; Steve LeBlanc and Michael Casey in Boston; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, New Jersey; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; and Michael Rubinkam in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.