Updated: 8:30 p.m.
The first few days of spring certainly did not feel like it.
Snow, sleet, and icy rain began falling early Wednesday, picked up in the afternoon, and continued well past the evening commute, creating hazardous road conditions and causing government offices and businesses across the Philadelphia region to shutter.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm dropped as much as 5 inches of snow on the city by 7 p.m. By then, it had already broken an 86-year-old snowfall record for March 21.
And it showed no signs of letting up.
Officials warned that, even though some roadways seemed clear thanks to relentless snowplowing, travel would still be dicey as the storm rolled on.
Snow emergencies in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware meant that normal operations in the bustling metro area slowed to a crawl. Schools and colleges postponed classes.
But not everybody stayed home.
David Carpenter, who works at the Curtis Institute of Music, greeted the collective reaction to the snowstorm with shock.
“I worked today. It was unbelievable to me how many businesses were closed. Even Starbucks,” he said. “I mean, it’s the Northeast, obviously it’s going to snow.”
The nor’easter near Easter affected not only the roads but also mass transit, causing cancellations and delays in all three states.
SEPTA regional rail lines and subways mostly ran on time, but buses were a different story. Dozens of routes were suspended midafternoon, and commuters reported delays on routes that were running normally.
NJ Transit suspended bus service across the state and cross-honored tickets on most of its rail and light-rail lines.
In Pennsylvania, PennDOT reduced the speed limit to 45 mph on main roads running from Ohio to New Jersey. Gov. John Carney of Delaware issued a warning to motorists in Kent and New Castle counties, urging drivers to exercise extra caution because of unsafe road conditions.
Philadelphia International Airport cancelled more than 700 flights — both arrivals and departures.
One mass transit rider who braved the elements was 31-year-old Miles Turner, who was waiting on a bus at 40th and Market streets in Philadelphia late afternoon Wednesday.
“You shouldn’t be trying to get around Philly right now,” Turner said, looking out at the snowy streets. “You should be trying to get to where you got to go and stay there for a while, because it’s shuttin’ it down.”
Still, Turner said city officials and residents overreacted to the storm. “It is what it is,” he said. “I was in Boston, and I was in West Virginia. Philly don’t really get real snow.”
The fourth winter storm in just under a month was an unexpected headache for commuters.
“It’s making me think maybe I shouldn’t be going into work at all,” Launa Hochstetler joked, looking at the sparsely populated platform around her at Suburban Station Wednesday morning.
With just light sleet to impede them Wednesday morning, many like Hochstetler found the morning commute calm and uneventful, even with SEPTA running a Saturday schedule.
But the storm had dropped several inches of snow on the region by the time commuters were leaving work and heading home.
The region’s outlying areas faced other problems.
Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches in Delaware endured wind, rain, beach erosion, and minor flooding from the Indian River Inlet. No major damage was reported, and the Coastal Highway south of Dewey Beach remained open.
There were also reports of flooding at the Jersey Shore, which had less snowfall than Philadelphia.
A winter storm warning from the National Weather Service remained in effect for Southeastern Pennsylvania through 2 a.m. Thursday. Total snowfall could eclipse a foot, officials said, with possible ice accumulation up to a 10th of an inch.
Winds could also cause power outages well into the night. PECO reported only a few outages throughout the day, while thousands of Atlantic City Electric customers in South Jersey saw their power go out, according to outage maps.
Efforts are now shifting to the Thursday digout. Philadelphia District Schools will open with a two-hour delay, but smaller school districts in New Jersey and Delaware will be closed. It’s unclear whether state government offices will reopen.
Driving, public transit & parking
Philadelphia officials declared a Snow Emergency at 9 a.m. Wednesday, which means parked vehicles could not be located along snow emergency routes so that snow plows could get through. For a list of where these routes are, here’s more.
$5 flat-rate parking will be in place at various garages and lots until the snow emergency is lifted. Here are instructions and which lots are included.
Driving? PennDOT has reduced the speed limit to 45 mph on the entire east-west mainline from Ohio to New Jersey, as well as the entire Northeastern Extension. The speed limit on all bridges in and out of the city has been reduced to 25 mph.
More than 450 @PANationalGuard soldiers are either notified, on standby, or are staging for possible missions, and @PennDOTNews has placed travel restrictions on routes & interstates across PA. Check https://t.co/nKsUmmAsY7 before heading out for travel updates. #WinterStormToby
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) March 21, 2018
If you’re waiting for a snow plow, or wondering why your street hasn’t been plowed yet, you can check the location of local plow trucks, cameras on major roadways and winter road conditions at 511PA.com.
SEPTA: Plan ahead, officials say. Avoid unnecessary travel as delays and cancellations are bound to happen throughout the day. Officials are already predicting delays and modifying transit schedules. For the most up-to-date information on delays and cancellations, go here.
- The Broad Street and Market-Frankfort lines will be running 24-hours with trains every 20 minutes, starting Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
- Regional Rail is operating on a Saturday schedule. So far this morning, trains are running on time.
- Cynwyd Line service will not operate today.
- Officials are predicting delays and cancellations on the Norristown High Speed Line if there is heavy snow accumulation, but otherwise the line is expected to operate every 20 minutes.
- Trolley lines and historically-affected bus routes are also being identified as early as Tuesday afternoon. For a full list and updated information, visit SEPTA.org.
Rte 22,55: Service will terminate at the Willow Grove Mall due to weather conditions.
— SEPTA (@SEPTA) March 21, 2018
— Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) March 21, 2018
PATCO is running on a storm schedule with all local stops and no express trains but will return to normal service effective at midnight. Visit PATCO.org for more details.
As of Wednesday morning, NJ Transit is operating under a severe weather schedule. All bus service is suspended as of 3 p.m. Transit officials are cross-honoring tickets on NJT rail, light rail and PATH trains at Newark, Hoboken and 33rd St. in New York. Access Link, NJT’s paratransit service, is suspended statewide Wednesday. More at http://www.njtransit.com/hp/hp_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=HomePageTo.
Amtrak is operating on a modified schedule.
SERVICE UPDATE: Due to the winter storm in the Northeast, we will continue modified service on Thurs. 3/22. Full service will be restored when weather conditions allow us to safely do so. Please continue to follow us for service updates. Details are outlined below. pic.twitter.com/7j3RqfPUOc
— Amtrak Northeast (@AmtrakNEC) March 21, 2018
To see if your train will be impacted, visit https://tickets.amtrak.com/itd/amtrak/delayalerts.
Officials are warning residents about the possibility of widespread power outages following a day of heavy snow, sleet, and high winds.
But so far the grid seems to be holding up.
PECO is reporting a more than a dozen outages affecting several hundred customers in Philadelphia.
On the other side of the Delaware River, JCP&L only reported a handful of delays as of midday Wednesday.
But Atlantic City Electric, which serves customers in South Jersey just outside Philadelphia, reported more than 50 power outages affecting several thousand customers in the far southwestern corner of the state.
Comcast XFINITY announced it would open hotspots to subscribers and non-subscribers through March 26, in anticipation of projected widespread outages.
The City of Philadelphia as well as New Jersey and Delaware declared either snow emergencies or states of emergency, shuttering government offices across the region.
Philadelphia city offices are closed Wednesday, as well as municipal offices in Wilmington, Delaware and Hamilton Township, in Mercer County, N.J. Norristown declared a snow emergency, including parking restrictions and other regulations. Offices in Harrisburg are closed, too.
The Philadelphia School District is not holding classes Wednesday, and city courts as well as the Philadelphia Parking Authority are closed.
Several colleges and universities in the region are closed Wednesday, including Rutgers-Camden, Temple University, Saint Joseph’s University, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Delaware.
For a complete list of Pa. school closings, click here.
Museums and cultural parks are beginning to close for the day, including:
- Independence National Historic Park
- Independence Visitor Center
- Franklin Institute
- Reading Terminal Market
- Liberty Museum
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Mutter Museum
- Eastern State Penitentiary
- Museum of the American Revolution
- Philadelphia Zoo
- The Free Library of Philadelphia
- Mural Arts
For a live list of what’s open or closed today, follow #OpeninPHL and #ClosedinPHL on Twitter. Check back here for our updated list of closings.
If a tree falls during a storm and poses a safety threat, call 911. Otherwise, call 311. A crew of arborists from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation are on-call to respond to tree emergencies and they will come out to remove the hazard and any part of the tree that is an immediate risk to public safety. Other parts of the tree that don’t pose an immediate risk (such as tree trunks and stumps) will be removed at a later time so our crews can focus on other safety hazards around the city during extreme weather events. In the event that a tree has fallen on electrical wires, please call PECO’s emergency line: 1-800-841-4141.
Call Centers Open. The Philly 311 Contact Center will be open on Wednesday (8am- 5pm) to take calls for non-emergencies. The walk-in Center at City Hall will be closed. Requests for salting and plowing will not be taken during the storm. Once the storm has moved on, the City will announce when such requests will be taken.
The Philadelphia Water Department’s customer contact center 215-685-6300 will be open. Citizens are encouraged to shovel snow from the fronts of fire hydrants and storm drains on their block to allow snow melt to drain to the city sewer system.
Homeless Outreach: The Office of Homeless Services is continuing its Code Blue until further notice. Throughout the Code Blue, Philadelphia’s homeless outreach teams will patrol the streets in greater numbers, urging homeless people to come to local shelters. People do not need ID to enter Code Blue shelters or cafes from the street, and they can remain indoors throughout the duration of the Code Blue. If you are concerned about someone who is homeless, please call the Outreach Coordination Center at 215-232-1984 at any time. Outreach is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. First responders can also transport people to shelter for their own safety.
WHYY’s Bobby Allyn and Avi Wolfman-Arent contributed to this report.