Snow snarls NJ’s Thursday commute, cancels schools and closes state offices
TRENTON — The first major snowfall of the winter made for a messy, slow morning commute on Thursday.
Heavy snow was falling along the Jersey Shore, where a blizzard warning was in effect for 45 to 55 mph wind gusts that could whip up the snow, creating whiteout conditions.
Gov. Chris Christie closed all state offices around 8:30 a.m. due to the snow and declared a state of emergency in Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties.
A state of emergency does not prevent anyone from driving or force the closing of businesses or schools.
The declaration will speed up assistance from state agencies to where it is needed and “authorizes the NJ director of Emergency Management to makes resources available for rescue, evacuation, shelter and essential commodities activate and coordinate the preparation, response and recovery efforts for the storm with all county and municipal emergency operations and governmental agencies, according to the state Office of Emergency Management.
Many townships and boroughs closed their offices for the day. Monmouth County offices were closed for the day.
Story continues below video.
A state of emergency was declared in Ocean County with people asked to stay off the road unless absolutely necessary.
New Jersey 101.5 Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said the snow started falling in southernmost areas of the state around 3 a.m., and dropped a quick 2 inches in some spots.
Zarrow said a band of snow was making snow "pour out of the sky' around 7 a.m. along the shore.
"The National Weather Service bumped their snow totals along the coast to 12-18 inches. Can't say I blame them, honestly," Zarrow said.
As of 10 a.m., the most snow accumulated in Northfield with 11 inches. About 8 to 10 inches fell in Galloway, Egg Harbor Township, Brigantine and Pleasantville. About 7 inches fell in Manahawkin and 6.5 inches in Brick, according to the National Weather Service reports.
Nearly 5 inches fell in Long Branch and Shrewsbury but Freehold to the west had under an inch. Snow totals fell off further to the northwest with between 1 and 2 inches in Mount Laurel and Medford and under an inch in Mercer, Middlesex and Morris counties.
But the cold weather made the snow stick immediately to the road and created treacherous driving conditions.
Hundreds of schools made the decision to cancel classes on Wednesday night, although some organizations went with delayed openings. Several districts in Mercer County, where less snow is expected, made the call in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Snow will stick immediately to the roads because of the recent frigid cold, according to state Department of Transportation spokesman Stephen Schapiro.
There were a number of spinouts and blocked ramps on the Parkway as heavy snow fell. A tractor trailer jackknifed on the Turnpike around 7 a.m. south of Route 195 in the outer lanes. A third truck jackknifed after 10 a.m. on the southbound outer lanes near Route 18.
State Police said they responded to 159 motor vehicle crashes & 285 motorist aids, ranging from spinouts to flat tires to mechanical breakdowns, in their patrolled areas.
Traffic moved slowly on a snow-covered Route 195, especially in the shore areas east of Exit 16 for Six Flags.
- Garden State Parkway speed limit was reduced to 35 mph between Cape May and Sayreville
- NJ Turnpike speed limits were reduced to 45 mph for the entire length of the highway.
- Speeds were reduced on the Hudson and Delaware River crossings
Schapiro said salting and plow crews will be driving slowly and drivers should give them plenty of room to do their jobs. He said road conditions can change quickly, so slow down and leave extra space between.
"They can't drive too fast when they spread the salt. It won't go where they need it to go. When they're plowing they need to stay at a safe speed," Schapiro said. "They're out there getting the roads clear and safe for you. It's best to be behind them. Don't try to zoom by them. It makes it very difficult for them to do their job when cars are speeding past them."
NJ TRANSIT, PATCO, and AMTRAK:
NJ Transit rails, light rails, and buses operated on a regular weekday schedule on Thursday, with cross-honoring in place. PATCO is operating on a special weekday snow schedule.
NJ Transit reported 45 minute delays into the Port Authority bus terminal.
The strong winds could also bring down trees and branches onto power lines and the number of outages were creeping up, according to their respective outage websites. As of 10:35, about 2,000 customers were without power statewide after earlier outages were taken care of by heavily bundled crews.
- PSE&G: 1,687 mostly in Plainsboro (Middlesex)
- JCP&L: under 1,000
- Atlantic City Electric: minimal outages
According to the website FlightAware.com, 856 flights in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport were canceled due to the storm including 462 departures. At LaGuardia, 267 flights were canceled, along with 172 at JFK and 70 at Philadelphia. Nationally, more than 3,500 flights were canceled.
"Looking at Friday, airlines have already cancelled 154 flights tomorrow in the U.S. There was a total of 27,224 commercial flights scheduled to/from/within the United States today," FlightAware.com's Sara Orsi said.
Share your snow stories, pictures, and video with reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.