The Longest Day: Storm Surprises Benedict’s

A powerful snowstorm at rush hour paralyzed Newark, leaving drivers, commuters, and students stranded.

A powerful snow storm struck Newark Thursday, dropping more than five inches of snow  – most of it in the afternoon and into the early evening.

Newark was not prepared.

Soon after the storm’s onset, road conditions became deplorable. Accidents at major city intersections, including Springfield Avenue and West Market Street, brought mass transit services to a halt. NJ Transit buses littered the streets – many of them piled together, with nowhere to go.

The storm proved to be unexpected for not only Newark, but the entire region as reports on news sites beamed images of snarled traffic, slowed trains, slushy streets, and stranded commuters. Many at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School were affected by the weather. Commutes that normally took 30 minutes stretched to four or five hours. Students and teachers sheltered at SBP, waiting out the storm, anxiously awaiting the arrival of family members.

Many people were frustrated with the pace of the city’s handling of the storm. Ms. Smith, a woman who was riding  the No. 25 bus to Irvington down Springfield Avenue was “aggravated” with the city and NJ Transit because of the slowness of the traffic and the lack of preparation for the storm. “I left at 2:30 to go pick up my son and I am still sitting here at 6:00,” she said.

The initial forecast called for 1 to 2 inches of slush and sleet. The highest prediction of snowfall called for 8 inches by 7 p.m. This shocked commuters and especially forecasters. “How does the news get this wrong?” said frustrated driver Jeremy Peralta who was stuck on Branford Place, a side street in Newark, heading home to New Brunswick. The car he was driving had been sitting in the same spot for an hour.

Ms. Tuorto, SBP’s Assistant Headmaster for Academics and the school’s meteorology teacher, was similarly dumbfounded. “This amount was never expected. We even forecasted in class and all,” she said.

Despite the mood of frustration among delayed commuters in and around Newark, the community of St. Benedict’s Preparatory School managed to keep itself in high spirits. Students and faculty members hung out in the lobby and in the Cafeteria –  having conversations and playing what games they could. That went on for a couple of hours when, around 8 p.m., cafeteria workers, led by Head Chef Neandre Barracks with assistance from Marquita Lauriano, prepared an impromptu dinner of roast turkey and fixings and hotdogs for approximately 100 people.  Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B., strolled around the cafeteria chatting with students from the Elementary, Middle, and Upper Divisions. “With the way this storm is looking, we might need to have another Overnight!” he joked.

Ms. Tuorto summed up the atmosphere at Benedict’s during this delay. “Even though we are stuck here, it’s whatever, because we have a place to stay and and I’ve had more time to be with good company and it’s been all good vibes,” she said. “I’d rather be here chilling with people than sitting in a car on William Street for 17 hours.”

School authorities decided to institute a delayed opening for the morning. Many remained at school late into the night, waiting for family to reach them in traffic-choked streets or hoping for roads to clear.

“If people need to,” Fr. Edwin said, “they can sleep in the booths.”