The "storm of the century" is expected to bring more than 30 cm of snow to some urban areas, disrupting Covid-19 vaccinations due to health centre closures.

A woman walks in heavy falling snow during a winter storm on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, on February 1, 2021.
A woman walks in heavy falling snow during a winter storm on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, on February 1, 2021. (Reuters)

A powerful winter storm has engulfed much of the US Northeast as several inches of snow fell across vast swaths of the region and high winds swept coastal areas, causing widespread disruption in New York City and other major urban centres in the region.

The nor'easter – a strong East Coast storm whose winds blow from the northeast – is forecast to bring 31 cm to 61 cm (1 to 2 feet) of snow to some areas of the United States' most densely populated region through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service on Monday.

By early Monday afternoon, the storm had dumped as much as 48 cm (19 inches) of snow in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 43 cm (17 inches) in the New York City borough of Queens and more than 33 cm (13 inches) in Manhattan's Central Park, the weather service said, as bands of snow began moving north into New England and south across southeastern Pennsylvania.

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'The storm of the century'

If it achieves its maximum potential, it would be the first winter storm to generate more than 2 feet of snow in New York City since 2016, when a record-breaking blizzard dumped 70 cm (27.5 inches) on the country's most populous city, according to the weather service.

"It's the storm of the century!" said snowplow operator James Carew, 56, of Union, New Jersey, whose family business, Carew Tree Experts, straps plows onto its fleet of pickup trucks to bring in winter cash.

The storm's intensity and the rapid buildup of snow means multiple visits to clear residential driveways like the one he was plowing in Maplewood, New Jersey. 

"This is a 10 out of 10 for storms," Carew said in an interview early Monday afternoon.

Winter storm warnings and weather advisories were in place across the Northeast. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency on Sunday, suspending public bus and commuter rail service for all of Monday.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed restrictions on non-essential travel starting at 1100 GMT on Monday due to heavy snowfall and strong winds expected to batter the city. 

De Blasio also announced the suspension of in-person learning at the city's public schools through Tuesday.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in the city and 44 other counties, and warned of possible road closures in the hours ahead.

"This is a dangerous situation. A life-threatening situation," Cuomo told a noontime news conference. "Expect closures. It's going to get very bad very quickly."

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Flights and vaccinations disrupted

Outdoor subway service in New York City was suspended as of 1900 GMT (2 PM EST), officials said. 

Upwards of 90 percent of flights at New York City-area airports have been canceled, according to Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and operations at La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports in Queens have been suspended.

The PATH commuter train service linking Manhattan and New Jersey also suspended service as of 2000 GMT (3 PM EST), Cotton said.

The stormy weather affected more than just roads and travel as Covid-19 vaccination sites and testing locations were forced to close or change their schedules.

All six vaccine mega-sites across New Jersey were closed on Monday, and vaccine appointments were rescheduled at many New York state-run sites. 

Vaccinations and testing were also suspended at New York City public hospitals and health centers.

De Blasio said that, with the city facing up to 56 cm (22 inches) of snow, vaccinations would be postponed on Tuesday as well.

"The storm is disrupting our vaccination effort, and we need to keep people safe," he told a news briefing.

In Boston, health officials announced the closure Monday of a Covid-19 vaccine clinic at the Reggie Lewis Center, a large indoor sports center.

But some Northeasterners greeted the heavy snowfall with excitement, taking to social media to share photos of streets, parks and backyards blanketed with the white stuff, as well as happy pets playing in the snow.

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Source: Reuters