Snow began falling across the Northeast on Friday, ushering in what was predicted to be a huge, possibly historic blizzard and sending residents scurrying to stock up on food and gas up their cars. The storm could dump 30 to 90 centimetres of snow from New York City to Boston and beyond.
Even before the first snowflake had fallen, Boston, Providence, Rhode Island , Hartford, Connecticut, and other towns and cities in New England and upstate New York towns cancelled school Friday, and airlines scratched more than 4,300 flights through Saturday, with the disruptions certain to ripple across the U.S.
'This one doesn't come along every day. This is going to be a dangerous winter storm' —Alan Dunham, meteorologist
"This one doesn't come along every day. This is going to be a dangerous winter storm," said Alan Dunham, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. "Wherever you need to get to, get there by Friday afternoon and don't plan on leaving."
The heaviest snowfall was expected Friday night and into Saturday. Wind gusts could reach 120 km/h. Widespread power failures were feared, along with flooding in coastal areas still recovering from superstorm Sandy in October.
Boston could get 60 to 90 centimetres of snow, while New York City was expecting 25 to 35 centimetres. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 kilograms of salt were being put on standby. To the south, Philadelphia was looking at a possible 5 to 12 centimetres.
Massachusetts bans traffic
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick banned all traffic from roads after 4 p.m. ET, believed to be the state's first such ban since the blizzard of 1978.
In the southeastern Massachusetts town of Whitman, where up to 75 centimetres of snow was forecast, public works crews were clearing crosswalk signs, trash barrels and anything else that might impede plows later in the day.
"We've had instances where they have predicted something big and it's petered out," said Dennis Smith, a public works employee. "I don't think this is going to be one of those times."
Smith's partner, Bob Trumbull, sounded a note of optimism, saying the relative lack of snow earlier this winter would make this storm easier to clean up.
"At least there is room for this snow. There are no snowbanks so we will have a place to put it," Trumbull said.
Snow was being blamed for a 19-car pileup in Maine Friday morning in Cumberland, as 15 centimetres blanketed the area.
A New Jersey town hit hard by superstorm Sandy issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas that are still recovering from that storm. Residents in flood-prone sections of Brick Township were also urged to move their cars to higher ground by 5 p.m. ET.
Amtrak suspended train service between New York and Boston in the afternoon.
4,300 flights cancelled
The organizers of New York's Fashion Week — a closely watched series of fashion shows held under a big tent — said they will have extra crews to help with snow removal and will turn up the heat and add an extra layer to the venue.
Airlines cancelled at least 4,300 flights ahead of the storm, according to airline tracking website FlightAware. At New York City's three main airports, most U.S. airlines planned to suspend operations between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET, resuming after noon on Saturday, FlightAware said. At Boston's Logan and other New England airports, most airlines were to cease operations between noon and 4 p.m. ET.
"This is a storm of major proportions," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said Friday. "Stay off the roads. Stay home."
Blizzard warnings were posted for parts of New Jersey and New York's Long Island, as well as portions of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, including Hartford, New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence. The warnings extended into New Hampshire and Maine.
In New England, it could prove to be among the top 10 snowstorms in history, and perhaps even break Boston's record of 67.9 centimetres, set in 2003, the National Weather Service said. The last major snowfall in southern New England was well over a year ago — the Halloween storm of 2011.
Dunham said southern New England has seen less than half its normal snowfall this season, but "we're going to catch up in a heck of a hurry." He added: "Everybody's going to get plastered with snow."
Some gas stations in Connecticut ran out of fuel Thursday night during the rush to prepare for the storm. Long lines were reported at many stations.
At Stop & Shop supermarket in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Friday morning, there was a line of shoppers outside when it opened at 7 a.m. ET, and a steady stream followed. Checkout lines were long.
Mary Anne DiBello was stocking up her cart as the snow began to fall. She said she hosted a sleepover Thursday night with four 9- and 10-year-olds, including her daughter.
"Now I think I'm going to be stuck with them until I bring them to school on Monday," she said.
The governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts ordered nonessential state workers to stay home Friday and urged travellers to stay home.