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Blizzard conditions batter Northeast


A major winter storm has been pummeling much of the northeastern U.S. today with heavy snows and high winds. Massachusetts has been getting the worst of it. Reporter Matt Baskin from member station GBH has been out in it, and he is with us now from Boston. Matt, welcome. Thanks for joining us.


M MARTIN: How bad is it out there?

BASKIN: Well, the conditions have been rough, a lot of snow, about 2 feet in some areas, and a lot of wind. The local office of the National Weather Service says they've measured gusts today of roughly 80 miles per hour out on Cape Cod, between 40 and 50 miles per hour south of Boston. And typically with wind like that, you might worry about downed trees, downed power lines. One saving grace, though, with this storm has been that while there is a lot of snow, it's not the heavy cement-like stuff you sometimes get. It's actually been pretty light. And that has limited the damage.

There are more than 100,000 power outages across the state right now. That's actually a fraction of what it could have been during a storm like this. Now, one major concern was flooding in coastal communities. There was some mild to moderate flooding at high tide this morning, nothing really catastrophic. The mayors and town officials I've spoken with say they're now holding their breath for the next high tide that will be right around 9:00 tonight.

M MARTIN: So where in Massachusetts has the storm been the worst?

BASKIN: Well, the heaviest snowfall and the heaviest wind has been south of Boston. That's where we've seen the two feet of snow I mentioned. We get something closer to about a foot, foot and a half around Boston. And it's to the south that we're seeing a lot of those power outages that I mentioned. The outages have been particularly bad on Cape Cod. MEMA, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, says that some towns on the Cape are actually entirely in the dark right now as far as roads go. They're in bad shape pretty much all across eastern Massachusetts.

Even with regular plowing, the snow has been coming down at really quite a clip, 2 to 3 inches per hour at times, so that if you were out on the road, you'd really only be able to see the hood of your car, not much beyond that. The local leaders I've spoken with, they've been very pleased by the fact that, per them, most people are staying off the roads. It's something our governor, Charlie Baker, really emphasized repeatedly ahead of the storm. And, in fact, the state banned tractor trailers and other big trucks from driving at all. They're not allowed back on the roads until after midnight.

M MARTIN: How about in the city of Boston itself? How's that going?

BASKIN: A lot of heavy snow, heavy wind, very blustery. But the city has been preparing for this for days, really. I spoke with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu earlier on today. She said her crews have been taking this very seriously.

MICHELLE WU: This storm is historic not only in how much snow we're getting, but also in our preparations. We have 920 pieces of equipment out on the roads as of 6:00 a.m. this morning. That's snowplows and salt spreaders and Bobcats.

BASKIN: Now, one big concern in Boston has been how the city's homeless population will handle this storm. Like a lot of cities, Boston's been seeing an uptick in people who were housing insecure. There was actually just a big push by the city to close down a major encampment and get people living there into housing. I've been in touch with shelters today. They say they are at capacity. Beds are full. They're having to put people coming in off the street into overflow spaces, what they're calling warming centers. And there are some homeless people who, even amid this nor'easter, are declining shelter.

Another element at play is Boston's public transit system, the T. It's been much maligned in recent years for how poorly it's performed, even during really basic winter weather. But today, I got to say, it hasn't been half bad. There have been delays on bus routes, some cancellations on the commuter rail lines out to the suburbs, but the subway has done fairly well. And it's fair to say we've seen much worse when it comes to the T's performance. I can also say that as serious as the storm is, people been having fun with it. We actually had some snowboarders out on Boston Common.

M MARTIN: OK. So 20 seconds - when does the storm finally end?

BASKIN: It's wrapping up around 11:00 tonight, should be tapering off entirely by midnight. Local leaders I've spoken with say tomorrow will be messy, but folks should be able to get out on the road. And Mayor Michelle Wu is predicting that kids will be able to go to school on Monday. No snow day.

M MARTIN: Oh, well, I don't know how I feel about that, but that was reporter Matt Baskin of member station GBH in Boston. Matt, thanks so much for being with us.

BASKIN: You got it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.