A mammoth winter snowstorm buried Central Jersey on Monday, choking roads and shuttering businesses as it dumped well over a foot of snow by the early afternoon, with the promise of more to come.
Early accumulation totals pointed to a nor’easter that, for once, lived up to its billing as heavy bands of snow crawled across the northern half of the state.
The region hasn’t seen this kind of storm since 2016, when a January blizzard blanketed the land with nearly two and a half feet, said Dr. David Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist and a Rutgers professor.
This week’s storm — which days ago dropped nearly 8 feet of snow on California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains — looks eerily similar, Robinson said.
“Sometimes you get a lot because it snows for a long time, and sometimes you get a lot because it snows hard and fast,” Robinson said. “This one has shades of both. That’s what makes this such an impressive event.”
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As of Monday afternoon, the state had been spared the scourge of widespread power outages that often accompanies heavy snow. Central Jersey’s two main power companies, PSE&G and JCP&L, both reported fewer than 50 customers without electricity.
Robinson said the combination of fluffy flakes and light winds were to thank, though he added that could change. State officials agreed, warning Monday morning that outages could increase as snow accumulated and winds strengthened later into the day.
‘This is a huge storm’
State officials made clear that their biggest concern was keeping drivers off the road.
At a Woodbridge news conference Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy begged residents to simply stay home
“Let me be as forceful on that point as I possibly can: If you don’t need to be out, go back to your house immediately,” Murphy said. “If you’re in your house, don’t leave your house… lock the door, sit on the couch and stay home until further notice. This is a huge storm.”
By 10:30 a.m., the New Jersey State Police had already responded to about 340 accidents and nearly 300 calls to aid motorists, the governor said.
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State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said he saw far too much commercial traffic on the roads, despite the governor’s earlier ban.
“We had jackknifed tractor-trailer after jackknifed tractor-trailer,” Callahan said. “That’s why those travel restrictions are put in place — it’s impossible to do snow removal operations when a tractor-trailer is sideways or upside down across our interstates.”
‘Get worse before it gets better’:NJ urged to stay home as hundreds of crashes reported
The state Department of Transportation had nearly 3,900 pieces of equipment, including plows and tow trucks, positioned throughout the state, officials said. The White House and the federal Department of Homeland Security also checked in several times, Murphy added.
The governor had declared a state of emergency at about 4 p.m. Sunday, which closed state offices Monday and suspended all NJ Transit buses, light rails and trains aside from the Atlantic City Rail Line.
The governor also said the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mega-sites were closed because of the weather.
More than 17 inches of snow had fallen on Bridgewater, Somerville, South Plainfield and Whitehouse Station by 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Other towns that saw more than a foot of snow on the ground by early afternoon included New Providence, Green Brook, Edison, Carteret, Perth Amboy and Raritan Township.
Robinson, the climatologist, said the extraordinary snowfall was fueled by moisture from the Atlantic Ocean.
Weather patterns and other factors often conspire to break up these nor’easters before they can get their footing, he said.
The systems stray too far north, where the air is cold but there’s no moisture to fuel massive snows. Or they wander too far south, where there’s plenty of moisture but the air is too warm.
This storm hit the sweet spot, Robinson said — that narrow window of 50 or 100 miles where the conditions are just right. Or just wrong, some might say.
“These really stick in the memory bank because they’re so unusual,” he said. “That’s the fickle nature of snowstorms.”
Staff writers Melanie Anzidei, Ashley Balcerzak and Abbott Koloff contributed to this story.
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news about those who safeguard your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.