Soonmee Lee cleans show from her car at the municipal parking lot in Fort Lee, N.J., as a winter storm hits the region Friday. The snow was expected to get worse overnight.
BOSTON — A storm that forecasters warned could be a blizzard for the history books began clobbering the New York-to-Boston corridor Friday, grounding flights, closing workplaces and sending people rushing to get home ahead of a possible 1 to 3 feet of snow.
From New Jersey to Maine, shoppers crowded into supermarkets and hardware stores to buy food, snow shovels, flashlights and generators, something that became a precious commodity after Superstorm Sandy in October.
Others gassed up their cars, another lesson learned all too well after Sandy. Across much of New England, schools closed well ahead of the first snowflakes.
“This is a storm of major proportions,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino warned. “Stay off the roads. Stay home.”
The wind-whipped snowstorm mercifully arrived at the start of a weekend, which meant fewer cars on the road and extra time for sanitation crews to clear the mess before commuters in the New York-to-Boston region of roughly 25 million people have to go back to work.
Halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, blizzard warnings were posted from parts of New Jersey to Maine. The National Weather Service said Boston could get close to 3 feet of snow by Saturday evening, while most of Rhode Island could receive more than 2 feet. Connecticut was bracing for 2 feet, and New York City was expecting as much as 14 inches.
By Friday evening, the New York-to-Boston corridor was getting blowing, swirling snow and freezing rain. Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries.
The snow was expected to be at its heaviest Friday night and into Saturday. Forecasters said wind gusts up to 75 mph could cause widespread power outages and whip the snow into fearsome drifts. Flooding was expected along coastal areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, which hit New York and New Jersey the hardest and is considered Jersey’s worst natural disaster.
Meteorologist Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground, said the winter storm was a collision of two storms and may end up among the Boston area’s Top 5 most intense ever.
“When you add two respectable storms together, you’re going to get a knockout punch with this one,” he said.
It could break Boston’s all-time snowstorm record of 27.6 inches, set in 2003, forecasters said. The storm also comes almost 35 years to the day after the blizzard of ‘78, a ferocious storm that dropped 27 inches of snow, packed hurricane-force winds and claimed dozens of lives.
Masters said the region could get a break from warmer air trailing behind that is expected to push temperature up to the 40s by Monday.
“It’s going to be not that difficult to dig out, compared to maybe some other nor’easters in the past, where it stayed cold after the storm went through,” he said.
Drivers were urged to stay off the streets lest their cars get stuck, preventing snowplows and emergency vehicles from getting through. New York City ran extra commuter trains to help people get home before the brunt of the storm hit.
Amtrak stopped running trains in cities around the Northeast on Friday afternoon. Airlines canceled more than 4,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City’s three major airports and Boston’s Logan Airport shut down.
Interstate 95 was closed to all but essential traffic in Rhode Island, where the governor said outages remained the biggest threat.
“With tree branches laden with heavy, wet snow, the winds picking up and the temperatures plunging all at the same time, it’s a bad combination,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee said.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick enacted a statewide driving ban for the first time since the blizzard of 1978. Hours before the ban went into effect at 4 p.m., long lines formed at gas stations, some of which were almost out of fuel.
James Stone said he was saving the remaining regular gas at his station in Abington, south of Boston, for snowplow drivers.
“It hasn’t snowed like this in two years,” Stone said. “Most people are caught way off-guard.”
The snow was too much of a good thing in some places. In New Hampshire, the University of Connecticut’s Skiing Carnival was canceled because of the snowstorm. In Maine, the National Toboggan Championships in Camden were postponed from Saturday to Sunday, and the Camp Sunshine Polar Plunge was put off until March.
At Rosie’s Liquors in Abington, customers were lined up eight to 10 deep Friday, snapping up rum, wine and 30-packs of beer.
“We’ve been absolutely slammed. It’s almost been like Christmas here,” manager Kristen Brown said. “A lot of people are saying, `I’m going to be stuck with my family all weekend. I need something to do.”’MORE IN Wire NewsWASHINGTON ó Two days after reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama said... Full StoryMOSCOW ó Russian prosecutors on Friday asked a court to sentence President Vladimir Putinís chief... Full StoryWASHINGTON ó The Army has finished its investigation into how and why Army Sgt. Full Story
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