Thousands of flights canceled as major snowstorm threatens Northeast

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A mighty nor'easter threatening to dump as much as 2 feet of snow on large parts of the Northeast was snarling air travel across the country and throwing major cities in the region into chaos Monday night.

"We're not kidding with this. This is not some sort of joke," said Kait Parker, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. "This is a major storm."

With parts of eight states — including New York City — under a National Weather Service blizzard warning through Tuesday evening, almost 5,300 arrivals and departures scheduled for Tuesday were pre-emptively canceled.

RELATED: Photos of Storm Stella

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Winter Storm Stella -- March 2017 Nor'easter
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Winter Storm Stella -- March 2017 Nor'easter
Men plow snow in Times Square during a snowstorm in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern United States on March 14 dropping snow and sleet across the region and leading to school closures and thousands of flight cancellations. Stella, the most powerful winter storm of the season, was forecast to dump up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow in New York and whip the area with combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour (95 kilometers per hour), causing treacherous whiteout conditions. But after daybreak the National Weather Service (NWS) revised down its predicted snow accumulation for the city of New York, saying that the storm had moved across the coast. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Ice covers cherry blossoms near the Jefferson Memorial after a snow and ice storm hit the nation's capital on March 14, 2017 in Washington City. The east coast of the U.S. is currently being pounded by a late season winter storm. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WORCESTER, MA - MARCH 14: Parked cars line a snowy street in Worcester, MA as a winter storm arrives in the region on Mar. 14, 2017. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: A man holds an umbrella as he walks past the steps of Federal Hall in the snow and wintry mix, March 14, 2017 in New York City. The blizzard warning for New York City has been cancelled and the National Weather Service is now predicting 4 to 8 inches for the city. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Cars make their way up a snow covered Interstate 95 near Greenwich, Connecticut March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped snow and sleet Tuesday across the northeastern United States where thousands of flights were canceled and schools closed, but appeared less severe than initially forecast. After daybreak the National Weather Service (NWS) revised down its predicted snow accumulation, saying that the storm had moved across the coast. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker clears snow in Times Square as snow falls in Manhattan, New York, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: People walk their dogs in the sleet and snow on March 14, 2017 in New York City. New York City and New Jersey are under a state of emergency as a blizzard is expected to bring over one foot of snow and high winds to the area. Schools, flights, businesses and public transportation are closed or restricted throughout the area. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Men plow snow at the Times Square during a snowstorm in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern United States on March 14 dropping snow and sleet across the region and leading to school closures and thousands of flight cancellations. Stella, the most powerful winter storm of the season, was forecast to dump up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow in New York and whip the area with combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour (95 kilometers per hour), causing treacherous whiteout conditions. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: A man shovels snow in the sleet and snow on March 14, 2017 in New York City. New York City and New Jersey are under a state of emergency as a blizzard is expected to bring over one foot of snow and high winds to the area. Schools, flights, businesses and public transportation are closed or restricted throughout the area. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Workers clear steps in Times Square as snow falls in Manhattan, New York, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A woman cleans snow from her store front during a snowstorm in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern United States on March 14 dropping snow and sleet across the region and leading to school closures and thousands of flight cancellations. Stella, the most powerful winter storm of the season, was forecast to dump up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow in New York and whip the area with combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour (95 kilometers per hour), causing treacherous whiteout conditions. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: A man holds an umbrella as he walks through the street in the early morning hours in the Financial District, March 14, 2017 in New York City. Officials in New York and New York City have declared a state of emergency in preparation for Tuesday's blizzard conditions. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Times Square Public Safety Sergeant Baldwin Davis captures falling snow with his cellular device in Times Square in Manhattan, New York, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 13: People walk along a snow-covered lakefront near downtown on March 13, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. After making it through January and February without any snow, about two inches of snow fell on the city this morning and another three to five inches are expected tonight. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain in Bryant Park is covered in ice on March 13, 2017 as the weather continues to be below freezing. The northeastern United States braced Monday for what meteorologists predict could be the worst winter storm of the season, with blizzards feared to dump knee-high snow on New York. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker clears snow in Times Square during a snow storm in Manhattan, New York, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A snow plow drives through Times Square as snow falls in Manhattan, New York, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Cars are covered in snow in a general parking lot during the snowstorm at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 13, 2017. Some Chicagoland areas received up to 5 inches of snow, and more than 400 flights were cancelled at O'Hare. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
Snow chains to be used on a New York City Department of Sanitation garbage truck is fitted with a snow plow in the west side depot March 13, 2017 to be used over the next two days as the city braces for a nor'easter that could dump as much as two feet of snow on the city. The National Weather Service issued a 24-hour blizzard warning from midnight Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday) for New York, America's financial capital and largest city, stretching north into Connecticut and south into New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A New York City Department of Sanitation plow moves sand around in the west side depot March 13, 2017 to be used over the next two days as the city braces for a nor'easter that could dump as much as two feet of snow on the city. The National Weather Service issued a 24-hour blizzard warning from midnight Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday) for New York, America's financial capital and largest city, stretching north into Connecticut and south into New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
The skyline of New York appears in the distance as people walk past the waterfront March 14, 2017 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
REVERE, MA - MARCH 14: A downed tree on top of a car on Chamberlain Ave as Winter Storm Stella bears down on March 14, 2017 in Revere, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Locks are covered in ice on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern United States on March 14 dropping snow and sleet across the region and leading to school closures and thousands of flight cancellations. Stella, the most powerful winter storm of the season, was forecast to dump up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow in New York and whip the area with combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour (95 kilometers per hour), causing treacherous whiteout conditions. But after daybreak the National Weather Service (NWS) revised down its predicted snow accumulation for the city of New York, saying that the storm had moved across the coast. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
A man clears a sidewalk of snow in Brooklyn, New York, on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern United States on March 14 dropping snow and sleet across the region and leading to school closures and thousands of flight cancellations. Stella, the most powerful winter storm of the season, was forecast to dump up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow in New York and whip the area with combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour (95 kilometers per hour), causing treacherous whiteout conditions. But after daybreak the National Weather Service (NWS) revised down its predicted snow accumulation for the city of New York, saying that the storm had moved across the coast. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
Men try to push a cab stuck in the snow on a street in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / ERIC BARADAT (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Cross country skiers enjoy a stroll in Central Park in New York city on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / ERIC BARADAT (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A public transportation bus is stuck unable to move up the hill in downtown Boston March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern United States on March 14 dropping snow and sleet across the region and leading to school closures and thousands of flight cancellations. After daybreak the National Weather Service (NWS) revised down its predicted snow accumulation, saying that the storm had moved across the coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ryan McBride (Photo credit should read RYAN MCBRIDE/AFP/Getty Images)
Times Square is seen in the background as a man walks along West 59th street in falling snow in Manhattan, New York, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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More than half them, 2,580, were at the three New York City-area airports alone: John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark. In New York City, above-ground train service will be suspended starting at 4 a.m.

An army of snow plows and other equipment marched onto sunny Northeastern streets Monday afternoon ahead of the winter wallop, which was forecast to kick off late in the evening with light snow, intensifying overnight into early Tuesday.

The storm could drop 18 inches of snow or more on New York City, with fierce wind gusts of 40 mph to 50 mph. Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded with chilly New Yorkers to keep off the roads so sanitation crews and first responders can do their jobs.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency statewide, activated 2,000 National Guard personnel and told non-essential state employees to take Tuesday off.

"It's a good day to stay home," Cuomo said Monday. "It's going to be a dangerous, dangerous situation."

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy banned travel statewide beginning at 5 a.m. ET Tuesday.

New York, Boston and Philadelphia all said schools would be closed Tuesday. The federal Office of Personnel Management said it would wait until 3 a.m. Tuesday to decide whether federal offices in the Washington, D.C., area would close.

Airports from Chicago to Boston bunkered in for the storm. At 9:30 p.m. ET, more than 5,200 of Tuesday's arrivals and departures had been scrubbed. Many airlines said they would waive rebooking fees for mid-Atlantic and Northeast airports.

Because the United States' aviation system is so interconnected, the chaos in the Northeast created a ripple effect through the rest of the country: There were long lines of frustrated travelers at the Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airports, where scores of flights to Northeast hubs were scrubbed.

The heaviest snow was expected to blanket the East on Tuesday morning, holding steady through the afternoon, with snowfall as much as 2 to 4 inches an hour.

"The winds are going to be blowing up over 60 miles an hour, which means your visibility is going to be next to nothing," Parker said.

And when the snow combines with gusts like that, there's also the potential for power failures, falling trees and traffic accidents.

"This is when the snow will be falling so hard and blowing around so much [that] cars and trucks will be at risk of getting stranded," NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said.

"The storm is going to start, and when it starts, it's going to snow hard, and it's going to snow quickly," Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said at a news conference Monday night. "It's going to create very treacherous circumstances and conditions."

That's unwelcome news for many in the region, who were enjoying springlike temperatures a few days ago and were hoping the storms were done for the season.

"This will be our 12th plowing storm this year. We budget for eight," Steve Earley, public services director in Portland, Maine, told New England Cable News. "It's been a busy winter, for sure."

At Rocky's Hardware in Agawam, Massachusetts, meanwhile, Joe Beaudry picked up a snow blower, shovels and a roof rake because you can never really be sure the storms are over.

"With New England, you never know," Beaudry told NBC station WWLP of Springfield. "We could get one in April."

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