By Michael Muskal and Alana Semuels
8:19 AM AKST, February 8, 2013
BOSTON -- Snow began falling throughout much of the Northeast on Friday morning, the first flurries of what forecasters are predicting will strengthen into a major blizzard, possibly bringing record accumulations of up to 3 feet of snow.
The storm, which has been expected for days, began dropping snow Friday morning in the Boston area and in New York City, where relatively warm temperatures turned the flakes to rain. The easy start to the day, however, was a just a lull, with heavy snow expected by evening along with hurricane-force winds in some areas still recovering from fall’s Superstorm Sandy.
“A major winter storm, with blizzard conditions, is forecast to impact the Northeast Friday night into early Saturday, as a developing nor'easter moves up the Atlantic coast. Total snowfall accumulations of 1-2 feet are possible, with locally higher amounts. In addition, gusty winds will create blizzard conditions, especially along the coast, making travel extremely hazardous, if not impossible,” the National Weather Service warned.
Blizzard warnings were posted all through the region, including northern New Jersey and parts of suburban New York City, especially Long Island, which was hit hard by Sandy. There was also some concern about flooding in low-lying areas.
The weather service also warned of large accumulations in portions of Massachusetts, especially metropolitan Boston. Connecticut, and its major urban centers Hartford and New Haven, were expected to feel the storm’s lash. Blizzard warnings were posted throughout New England, including Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.
The storm was expected to be one of New England’s worst ever. The record Boston snowfall was set in 2003 when 27.6 inches fell. The last major snowfall in southern New England was during Halloween of 2011. Boston could get up to 3 feet of snow from the current storm.
Officials began marshaling resources earlier in the week. New York state activated its emergency center and in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby. New York City could receive 6 to 12 inches of snow, a major hit. By comparison, Philadelphia, south and west, was expecting just two to five inches.
Snow flurries began Friday morning in Boston as residents raced to grocery stores before the worst of the storm, causing traffic jams and parking headaches.
Boston’s buses, subway and commuter rail will stop running at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, and state and local officials are urging drivers to stay off the roads after noon.
At a Shaw’s supermarket in Cambridge, Mass., people waited in long lines, complaining of shortages of bread and milk. Nidi Meta, 31, pushed a shopping cart through the market, stacked high with 10 big bottles of water, potatoes and frozen food.
“I want to be ready in case I can’t go out for three to four days,” she said.
Many others had the same idea – Meta said she had to look for a parking space for 10 minutes at the supermarket, when one usually pops up right away.
MIT professor Nancy Rose had stopped in the market Thursday night, only to find lines stretching to the back of the store. She left then, and came back Friday morning to still more lines.
“You’d think we were all about to starve,” she said.
Across the region, officials hoped for the best but prepared for the worst. Utilities put extra crews on alert to deal with expected power outages from lines down in the fierce winds.
The governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts ordered nonessential state workers to stay home Friday and urged travelers to keep off of the roads. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he will declare a state of emergency because of the blizzard.
Schools across the region were closed, giving people an unexpected three-day weekend.
Transportation issues were expected to become a growing problem and a concern nationally since the transportation systems of airlines, trains and roads are closely linked to each other and to places not having poor weather. Airlines began moving planes out of the Northeast and canceling flights earlier in the week.
So far, airlines have canceled almost 4,000 flights, according to airline tracking website FlightAware. Most airports were taking steps to close. In New York, the three main airports were expected to begin the shutdown process between 2 and 5 p.m. EST with full service not expected to resume until around noon Saturday. New England airports, including Boston’s Logan, were scheduled to close in the afternoon and reopen Saturday afternoon.
Amtrak said it will stop its trains in the Northeast on Friday afternoon.
In Washington, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was working with state agencies to monitor the response to the storm.