Two major winter storms have caused severe disruption to northeastern regions of the United States over the last week, affecting millions of people and forcing several states to declare emergencies. The heavy snowfall and strong winds associated with the storms caused trees and power lines to fall across the region, which in turn knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. There have also been reports of property damage as buildings collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. States of emergencies have been declared in Washington DC, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey after record-breaking snowfall. The storms forced government buildings, businesses and schools in the region to close and caused severe transport disruption. Reports said at least two people were killed during the storms.
The first storm hit the US east coast on 5 February, resulting in significant snowfall which stretched from Illinois to Pennsylvania. Reports said Washington DC, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia recorded snowfall accumulations of between 20 and 40 inches (510 and 1,020 mm). Major urban areas in these states were badly affected, with the storms bringing 28.5 inches (725 mm) of snow to Philadelphia, 20 inches (510 mm) to Pittsburgh and more than 30 inches (760 mm) to Baltimore. The heavy snowfall severely disrupted all forms of transport and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes. Strong winds associated with the storms downed tress and power lines that cut power to 300,000 households in Washington DC, another 350,000 homes in Maryland and Virginia and around 250,000 properties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to reports.
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The snowfall recorded in Washington DC was the highest amount in three decades. Federal government offices were forced to close for at least four days and the cost of lost productivity has been estimated at USD100 million per day. The high snow accumulations also collapsed dozens of roofs in the capital. According to reports, a church roof collapsed in northeast Washington DC and roofing of a private hanger in Dulles Airport gave way. There have been similar reports of roof damage across the northeast region while traffic accidents were widespread.
Before the region had fully recovered from the first event, a second storm hit the east coast on 10 February. This storm travelled further north than its predecessor, with New York City experiencing snowfall of around 15 inches (380 mm). However, areas that suffered during the first storm were also hit again with Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia all experiencing more disruption. Up to 20 more inches (510 mm) of snow fell in these cities, meaning they received more snow this winter than any time since record-keeping began. According to the National Weather Service, the snowfall total in Washington DC currently stands at 54.9 inches (1,390 mm), higher than the previous record of 54.4 inches (1,380 mm) set in the winter of 1899-1900.
The second storm also caused widespread disruption. In New York City, all schools were closed on 10 February for only the third time in eight years. The United Nations building in the city was also forced shut on 10 February. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the blizzard cost taxpayers USD1 million for each inch (25 mm) that fell. Transportation was also badly disrupted with thousands of flights cancelled and widespread power cuts were reported.
The last major snowstorms to hit the US east coast were in 1993 and 1996. According to Munich Re, these events triggered insurance claims worth USD2 billion and USD600 million, respectively. Although insured losses for this year’s events are not yet known, the Insurance Information Institute said winter storms resulted in more than USD7 billion in losses between 1999 and 2008 and are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses in the US, behind only hurricanes and tornadoes.
Sources: BBC News, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, Reuters News, CNN News, National Weather Service, Insurance Information Institute
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