VENTNOR, N.J. — Beach blocks filled with drifting snow. Howling winds drove sand and snow into frozen wavy patterns on the beach. Shore police and fire departments attended to broken-down cars, a stranded bus, downed wires, a woman in labor, a stuck ambulance.
Philadelphia, South Jersey, and the Shore all felt the effects of the highly anticipated "bomb cyclone," but it was the Atlantic coast that got truly buried in New Jersey and elsewhere.
The brutal storm smacked the coastal Southeast with a rare blast of snow and ice, first hitting parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina with the heaviest snowfall in nearly three decades. Photos on social media showed beaches on the Outer Banks blanketed with snow, not sand.
Around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, a few SEPTA Routes 9 and 65 buses became stuck near the corner of Ridge and Manayunk Avenues while trying to get up the hill, a SEPTA spokeswoman said. Five passengers and the drivers had to wait for an hour and a half until a city plow truck arrived to knock snow and ice out of their way, she said.
But it was the Jersey Shore that was getting the worst of it, with up to 18 inches of snow expected in some areas, along with gale-force gusts. By early evening, 17 inches already had fallen in Brick, 16 inches in Margate, 12.7 inches at Atlantic City International Airport, and 17 inches in Cape May Court House. The National Weather Service reported gusts of more than 50 mph. Amounts were more modest inland, with up to three inches reported in the immediate Philadelphia area.
Gov. Christie declared a state of emergency in Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth Counties.
Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said the biggest impact from the snow and high winds was felt on the roads, not the beaches. The county closed both Fulling and Breakwater Roads, which run on either side of the Cape May airport. Crews just could not keep up with the snow drifts.
"People are getting stuck in snow drifts," Foster said. ".Even our snow plows are getting stuck."
Conditions were likely to remain poor through the weekend because of the expected extreme cold. The snow will freeze hard on the streets, he said, as temperatures reach low single digits Friday into Saturday. Salt won't melt it at those temperatures.
In Margate, meanwhile, a half-dozen devoted locals showed up by midday to sit at the bar at Roberts Place on Atlantic Avenue.
On Long Beach Island, police in Harvey Cedars reported white-out and blizzard-like conditions, and the beginning of beach erosion typical of a nor'easter.
"We do have beach erosion that is occurring right now," said Patrolman Tim Butler, broadcasting on Facebook Live as he and Officer Benjamin Mrozinski drove up a snowy Long Beach Boulevard.
"The waves are basically almost crashing into the bottom of the dunes," he said. "So that cliff that everybody knows after a nor'easter with the beach erosion is forming right now."
Back in Ventnor, firefighters drove military vehicles to conduct house checks, climbing through thigh-high drifts.
Driving around, Fire Chief Cahill said streets would be frozen solid Friday, when his department would be digging out 485 fire hydrants. About two feet of water filled some streets during the morning high tide off the bay, Cahill said.
He said Ventnor's public works department followed ambulances and fire trucks to help dig out stuck cars, and assist in ambulance calls.
Ventnor Police Chief Doug Biagi said drifting built to more than three feet in places. "As quick as they plow, the snow drifts are building back up," Biagi said. "It's frigid, and the snow building is so quick. It's useless to plow."