East, West Coast experience record winter storms

Blizzard, ‘Pineapple Express’ rains cause major interruptions

Major snowstorms over the winter holiday showed the effects a regional storm can have not only on local travel, but on the national transportation network.

East Coast Storm

A two-day snowstorm in the Northeast United States buried major metropolitan areas under snow drifts several feet high, leading to a week-long slowdown in public services and anger from area residents.

Beginning Dec. 26, a blizzard hit the metropolitan New York and New England regions, and much of the media coverage centered on the snow’s effect on New York City. The city’s three major airports were shut down during the storm, and many trains and subway lines were delayed for hours, stranding holiday commuters.

The two-day storm was one of the worst in the past four years, leading to declared states of emergency across North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland as it made its way up the East Coast. Its impact on those Mid-Atlantic States was less severe than its impact on the New York region.

High winds and tree limbs frozen from the storm cut power to nearly 85,000 customers in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Accidents on the roadways claimed five lives along the East Coast, four in North Carolina and one in Maine.

In addition, all flights out of Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey were canceled. The cancellation of the nearly 4,000 flights caused thousands of residents and visitors to be stranded at airports and other public transit stations.

New York City’s response to the storms, particularly the level of snow removal services across the New York metropolitan area, was questioned through media reports in The New York Times and regional publications. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that the city’s response to the storm was inadequate. Among the reasons cited for the slow response were a lack of thorough preparation for the severity for the storm and the presence of vehicles stranded across the city, despite warnings to avoid travel.

According to The New York Times, New York’s City Council began to investigate the response to the storm in early 2011. Two weeks after the Christmas storm, the city prepared for another snowstorm by warming up the city’s 365 salt spreaders, though the storm did not measure up to the December event. The city also demoted John Peruggia, chief of the New York City Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Service division, in January.

‘Pineapple Express’

On the other side of the country, California and Nevada experienced an uncommonly wet storm system that originated from Hawaii. Though the storm system had the playful Pineapple Express moniker, its impact was anything but humorous.

The Pineapple Express system has caused major flooding from California up to British Columbia in the past, and the 2010 iteration brought days of heavy rainfall to Southern California. Between December 18 and 19, the storm dropped 9 feet of snow on Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

In Southern California, the heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides, causing damage estimated at $60 million. Officials ordered evacuations in the area, as did officials in some towns in Utah also impacted by torrential rains. In Highland, Calif., a foothill town, residents were left with as much as 4 feet of mud.

According to Reuters, the seven-day rain total in mid-December was about half as much as much as Los Angeles receives in an entire year. In total, the storms caused severe damage to about 40 homes and were responsible for one death.