BOSTON – Snow began to fall as a massive blizzard headed for the American Northeast on Friday, sending residents scurrying to stock up on food and supplies ahead of a storm poised to dump up to 3 feet (nearly a meter) of snow from New York City to Boston and beyond.
Even before the first snowflake had fallen, airlines scratched more than 4,000 flights through Saturday. Boston and other towns and cities in New England and upstate New York cancelled school.
“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, Massachusetts. “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 75 mph (121 kph). Widespread power failures were feared, along with flooding in coastal areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in October.
Boston could get nearly a meter of snow, while New York City was expecting up to 12 inches (30 centimetres). Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick banned all traffic from roads after 4 p.m., believed to be the state’s first such ban since the blizzard of 1978.
Snow was being blamed for a 19-car pileup in Maine on Friday morning. In Brick Township, New Jersey, which was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas that are still recovering from that storm.
Amtrak rail said its Northeast trains will stop running Friday afternoon. 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 have cancelled more than 4,000 flights on Friday and Saturday in preparation for the Northeast storm, according to airline tracking website FlightAware. At New York City’s three main airports, most domestic carriers planned to cease operations between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday, 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., and would restart Saturday afternoon.
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 27.6 inches (701.04 millimeters), 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.
In New Hampshire, Dartmouth College student Evan Diamond and other members of the ski team were getting ready for races at the Ivy League school’s winter carnival.
“We’re pretty excited about it because this has been an unusual winter for us,” he said. “We’ve been going back and forth between having really solid cold snaps and then the rain washing everything away.”
But he said the snow might be too much of a good thing this weekend: “For skiing, we like to have a nice hard surface, so it will be kind of tough to get the hill ready.”
The governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts ordered nonessential state workers to stay home Friday and urged travellers to stay home.
Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Lyme, New Hampshire, Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vermont, Jay Lindsay in Gloucester, Massachusetts., and Denise Lavoie, Rodrique Ngowi and Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.