Just as a winter storm was bounding across the Northeast on Thursday, Palm Beach County residents were dealing with a record-tying temperature of 86 degrees.
Unfortunately for people in the Northeast who want to escape the blizzard conditions — with punishing winds, dangerously low temperatures and more than a foot of snow expected in some areas — it may be too late. The weather began affecting travel to and from Palm Beach County.
Airlines began grounding flights early Thursday morning and around 2,300 flights were canceled by the end of the day. More cancellations and delays are expected today, as the bulk of the storm is expected to do its damage overnight.
At Palm Beach Beach International Airport, more than 30 flights were canceled after 1:30 p.m. And that’s while the temperature was hitting a high of 86 degrees at PBIA, which tied the all-time high set 1996, according to the National Weather Service.
Things were far different north of here.
The massive storm moved east on Thursday after pummeling Chicago with up to 18 inches of snow. Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com, said southern New England will receive the brunt of the Nor’easter, with wind gusts up to 50 mph, numbing wind chills and more than a foot of snow.
“Absolutely dangerous,” Edwards said of the storm. “Not only are you talking about measuring the snow in feet, but about a wind chill down below minus-20 to minus-30 degrees. When you have wind chills that cold, exposed areas on your body can freeze and frostbite sets in within minutes.”
The storm was making for a frustrating day at PBIA for traveler Joseph Belluccio. The New York-bound Belluccio received a call at 1 a.m. on Thursday that his scheduled JetBlue flight to LaGuardia Airport was canceled. The airline re-booked Belluccio onto another flight for Thursday afternoon, this one arriving at JFK International Airport.
But when Belluccio arrived at PBIA, he found that the JFK flight had been delayed.
“So now, I’m looking at, minimum, a six-hour wait, and if that flight gets canceled, who knows when I’m going to get out of here?” said Belluccio, who was in Palm Beach County to visit a sick family member. “Believe me, I’m not happy.”
Cathel Donoghue, a 27-year-old flight student from Ireland, was trying to get back home to Dublin, but didn’t get very far on Thursday. His connecting flight through JFK was canceled, leaving Donoghue scrambling to find overnight accommodations.
Donoghue said he normally flies home by connecting through Atlanta during the winter to avoid bad weather in the Northeast, but was unable to do so this time.
“It’s been a long day already so I’m trying to stay positive,” Donoghue said.
At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, 69 flights were delayed and 22 canceled as of mid-afternoon. Mike Noonemacher, the airport’s director of operations, said that the number of delays and cancellations would cause some disruptions, but would not match the upheaval caused in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, which closed many airports in the Northeast, some for days.
“I’ve been here 28 years and that Sandy was the very worst its gotten,” Noonemacher said. “We had 57 aircraft grounded for more than 24 hours.”
Despite the mass cancellations and delays on Thursday, the ticketing areas at the Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale airports weren’t very busy. Most travelers know to check their flight status long before they get to the airport, said Fort Lauderdale airport spokesman Greg Meyer.
“We really don’t have people staying in the terminals in large numbers,” Meyer said. “Social media and the smartphone era have changed the dynamics of that.”
The Weather Channel reported late Thursday that at least 100 million Americans were under some level of winter storm warning, watch or advisory. That area spanned from southern Indiana to eastern Maine, a distance of almost 1,200 miles.
Freeze watches and warnings have been posted all the way down to northern Florida, where wind chills could fall to under 20 degrees.
Locally, temperatures will be cooler today.
The morning low will be 62 degrees and the day may reach a high of 67, with gusty 20- to 25-mph winds.
By Sunday, temperatures will be back into the 80s. Another cold front is expected to come in Monday.