Robert Burck, aka the Naked Cowboy, performs in Times Square as the snow… (Frank Franklin II / Associated…)
NEW YORK -- Matthew Grass had planned on renting a car here and driving north to see snow. But the snow came to him, falling in light, icy flakes across Times Square just hours after Grass, his wife and two daughters arrived in New York City on a week's vacation from New Orleans.
Across the Northeast -- where anywhere from 1 to 3 feet of snow was predicted to fall during a major blizzard -- state and local officials issued dire warnings instructing people to stay inside and wait for the worst to pass. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, hours after Gov. Dannel Malloy in Connecticut did the same. Rhode Island and Massachusetts were also under states of emergency Friday evening.
"You've heard of 'Finding Nemo.' It seems like Nemo has found us," Cuomo said, referring to the name the winter storm has been given by the Weather Channel.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city had 1,700 snow plows ready to hit the road once the accumulation reached about 3 inches. There were anti-icing vehicles, extra tow trucks, dozens of front-end loaders, and 460 salt spreaders ready to launch as the blizzard blew in through the night.
Grass and his family were thrilled.
"The kids are doing what they came to do -- play in the snow," he said as his daughters, Macie, 11, and Kerri, 12, stood in Times Square catching snowflakes on their tongues. "We love it," Grass said, conceding that if they had to live with snow year after year, they might feel differently.
"I"m here to relax, to stand here and lick snow off the sky," said Grass, who with his wife, Melissa, and their daughters planned to walk across the snow-shrouded Brooklyn Bridge, play in the snow in Central Park, make snow angels and soak up the atmosphere. "This is what it's all about," he said, motioning toward the neon-flashing skyscrapers that lit up an otherwise gray sky looming over Times Square.
The family was lucky to get into the city. Their flight was one of the last to land Friday morning in the New York area, where at least 2,300 flights were canceled.
Blizzard conditions were expected to develop overnight, and while the worst of the storm was anticipated far to the north, in Boston and New England, the storm was the third bout of bad weather to hit New York since Hurricane Sandy devastated the region in late October. It was also the first major snowstorm in New York City since a unusually early one walloped the area in October 2011.
Bloomberg said the memory of Sandy's destruction probably contributed to New Yorkers' concern about this storm.
"In some senses that's good. We always recommend you have a go bag and you know what to do if you lose power," he said of some locals' extra preparedness, which led to some long lines at gas stations Thursday evening. But Bloomberg also said that unlike with Sandy, there was no indication that gas supplies would run low.
"In sum, this is a serious, severe storm," said Cuomo. "But we just went through some really terrible storms with Hurricane Sandy. We are not anticipating anything like that."
Schools were not canceled Friday, subways and buses were running, and Broadway shows were going on as scheduled -- unlike in the run-up to Sandy and to Hurricane Irene a year before.
As the snow began falling, the line outside the half-price booth in Times Square to purchase last-minute Broadway tickets was crammed with people huddled beneath umbrellas.
Rick and Sue Constance, visiting from St. Louis, were deciding what to see. They hadn't expected snow when they planned their visit, which began Tuesday. "But we're prepared," Rick said, showing off their snow boots.
As for locals, Bloomberg urged them to follow his example by resisting the lure of Broadway and New York's other temptations and just staying home.
"I plan to catch up on my sleep. Also run on the running machine," he told an afternoon briefing.
"You can't take nature too lightly," Bloomberg added, alluding to the more than 40 deaths in the city caused by Sandy. "Hopefully it won't be anything drastic, and it's certainly not going to be a Hurricane Sandy. But that doesn't mean you can't get badly hurt or killed."
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