ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) – A powerful winter storm roared into New Jersey on Sunday, bringing most travel to a standstill and extending family holiday gatherings for at least another day.
Much of the state was expected to get a foot of snow by midday Monday.
It was so severe that state Senate President Steve Sweeney, the state’s acting governor while Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno are out of state, declared a state of emergency Sunday evening. That gave authorities the power to close roads and evacuate people, if they deem necessary, and is the first step toward applying for federal aid for the cleanup. A decision on whether to close state government offices on Monday was still left to be made.
New Jersey Transit canceled Sunday evening’s buses and cut Monday’s train schedule on every line except the Atlantic City line.
Coastal areas got the brunt of the storm, with winds so strong that snowflakes felt like rice pelting the skin.
Raquel Dayan, 25, and her husband, Amir, found themselves stranded for nearly 45 minutes along eastbound Interstate 195 Sunday evening after they followed a car in front of them into the grassy, snow-packed median. The snow was so thick, Raquel said her husband couldn’t tell he was driving off the road. The Philadelphia couple, headed to her parents’ home in Oakcrest, got help digging out.
“You couldn’t see anything. We just kind of stopped moving,” she said. “It was pretty bad when we left, but I think it got worse as we went along.”
The snow began falling across the state late Sunday morning and grew heavier as the day progressed. By early evening, there were more than 9 inches on the ground in southern New Jersey’s Cape May County and close to 11 inches in parts of northwestern Jersey’s Sussex County.
Overall, forecasters were expecting 12 to 20 inches in most areas by the time the snow stopped early Monday. Blizzard warnings remained in effect for the eastern half of the state, while winter storm warnings were in place for western New Jersey.
Most residents heeded warnings to stay off the roads, which made it less difficult for road crews who worked through the day trying to keep major roadways clear. But local roads grew increasingly slick, slushy and slippery as the day progressed, and numerous accidents and spinouts had been reported, especially on secondary roads. Even on major roads like Interstate 295 in Burlington County, traffic creeped along under 30 mph for most of the day.
The medians and shoulders of Interstate 195 were littered with stranded cars.
On Main Street in Asbury Park, even a snow plow spun out trying to drive through an intersection.
Some people ventured out to grocery stores to buy milk, bread and other staples. There also was a run on snow shovels at the Home Depot in Cherry Hill, while some people—though far fewer than usual—soldiered on with a day-after-Christmas rite of shopping and bargain-hunting.
VIEW PHOTOS: Winter Storm pics, December 2010
There were more snow plows than shoppers at Jackson Premium Outlets in Jackson, but the weather didn’t keep Shoba Dorai from making the trip from Edison with a girlfriend and her friend’s two toddlers.
“It was not that bad when we left this morning around 10:30,” Dorai said. “I guess it was not a great idea, though.”
Like many shoppers, Dorai was looking for deals, and she had the stores mostly to herself. But by 3 p.m., several stores had closed because of the weather.
That was bad news for Christina Lanzisero, 20, of Manalapan, and her family, who just arrived.
“My mom really wanted to go shopping. She wants to buy a new dish set,” Lanzisero said.
One place that was popular, though, was the Redbox video kiosk outside a Walgreens store in Cherry Hill. There, if you wanted to rent a movie, you had to wait in line.
Relatives sent 25-year-old Danny Hernandez to the vending machine as they stayed warm in their car. They signaled to him to rent three movies to turn their evening into a film festival.
For Hernandez, the storm means more time with family in Cherry Hill. He had come from his home in Manhattan to visit and thought better of his original plan to go back Sunday. “I’ve got work tomorrow,” he said. “I already called out. Hopefully, it’s not for the whole week.”
Hernandez might not be needed at work anyway. He drives a shuttle to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where many flights were canceled.
The weather also forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights at Newark Liberty Airport, leaving many travelers stranded, and shut down Atlantic City International Airport entirely.
“We left the day after Christmas to avoid the Christmas craze. I guess that didn’t work out so well,” said Colleen James of Montclair, N.J. She, her husband, their two young children and their dachshund were at Newark Liberty trying to reach family in Iowa, but their connecting flight to Chicago was delayed more than two and a half hours.
Her husband, Graham James, was resigning himself to postponing their trip a month. “Now we’re worried about just driving home because of the crazy snow,” he said.
Scattered minor power outages had occurred across the state by Sunday evening. The most severe was a substation problem that left 2,100 customers without electricity in Linden and Rahway.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)