BOSTON--Generators have been topped off with fuel. Supplies, from food to salt, have been stockpiled. Roads are increasingly empty as drivers heeded official announcements to get off the highway, head for shelter and stay there until the blizzard of 2013 passes.
What is predicted to be a historic snowfall began to pummel the Northeast on Friday afternoon. Snow began falling with deliberation and increasing speed in a nine-state region that includes Massachusetts and New York.
“Stay off the city streets, stay out of your cars, and stay in your homes,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned his city, which could receive more than a foot of snow by midday Saturday. Bloomberg’s warning was echoed by municipal officials throughout the Northeast, parts of which are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, which struck about three months ago.
The National Weather Service put the entire region under blizzard warning, predicting a high volume of snow and fierce, intense winds that could approach hurricane force and white-out conditions. Snowfalls could start at almost a foot and top three feet in some areas.
Low-lying areas, from parts of New Jersey to Long Island, along the Atlantic Coast up to Maine, also faced the threat of flooding as water, stirred up by the driving winds, sought its new level.
The major blizzard was being caused by an clash of meteorological titans. A nasty snow storm was moving east from the Midwest, combining with a coastal nor’easter working its way from North Carolina. The two systems were expected to merge into a zone of misery that will move its way through the Northeast.
In Boston, the blizzard could bury the previous record of 27.6 inches of snow in 2003.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced that he had banned almost all vehicles from the roads – the first such move since the historic blizzard of 1978. The penalty for ignoring the ban could include a hefty fine, or up to a year in prison, he said.
There are exceptions to the ban, which began at 4 p.m., about the same time the snow picked up its tempo. Public safety workers, public works vehicles, fuel delivery personnel and the media were exempt.
“By all accounts, certainly from my briefings and your own weather reports, this is going to be a very serious weather event,” Patrick told reporters. Patrick said that as much as three feet of snow could fall, and wind could cause drifts of up to five feet in some areas.
Most residents were hunkering down, preparing to stay off the roads until the ban is lifted. Schools across the region were closed on Friday, creating an unexpected three-day weekend. Many events were canceled as well, in anticipation of transportation difficulties.
“I guess I’ll just stay in and bundle up,” said Lynn Nichols, who was waiting for a bus in Cambridge, on her way home to Watertown.
States of emergency were declared in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. National Guardsmen have been deployed in Connecticut and Massachusetts to help with security issues and to aid relief efforts. The region braced for downed electric power lines and other dislocations from the winds.
As much as 10% to 30% of subscribers could lose electricity at some point and there were reports that gas stations had run dry as people topped off generators.
“By the time the storm passes early Saturday afternoon, we’re expecting to have accumulations of 10 to 14 inches across the five boroughs, based on the latest from the National Weather Service. And higher local accumulations are possible,” Bloomberg told reporters. “Now, all of that could change. The storm could move much further east faster, and we could have an awful lot less snow, which would be great. But we’ve got to prepare for the worst case.”
High tide was also coincide during the snow whiteouts, Bloomberg noted.
“Many of the same communities that were inundated by Hurricane Sandy’s tidal surge just about 100 days ago are likely to see some moderate coastal flooding this evening. It’s likely to produce the kind of coastal flooding that can be expected in these areas during such storms and people know how to deal with it,” he said.
In addition to road closures, other major transportation systems were shut down. Amtrak canceled service in the Northeast.
More than 4,300 flights have been canceled at New York’s three airports and at Boston’s Logan Airport. In preparation, airlines began canceling flights earlier this week.
Semuels reported from Boston and Muskal from Los Angeles.