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'Very serious' winter storm begins battering New England

4:55 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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Jeannine Strampel walks through the snow past a statue of Alexander Hamilton along Commonwealth Avenue Mall on February 8, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Massachusetts and other states from New York to Maine are preparing for a major blizzard with possible record amounts of snowfall in some areas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
TRAVEL RESOURCES

By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET: With the worst still to come, wind-whipped snow coated much of New England and dusted New York on Friday - the beginning of what forecasters said would become a dazzling, dangerous and perhaps even record-shattering winter storm.

Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights, Boston closed its subway, Amtrak suspended some service, and cities across the Northeast made plans to deploy an armada of snowplows and salt-spreading trucks.

Forecasters said they expected Massachusetts to get the worst, including accumulation of 3 feet in some spots. The worst snowfall on record in Boston was a 27.5-inch blast a decade ago, a record forecasters said was in danger.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced a car ban for limited-access highways in the state starting at 4 p.m.

And in neighboring Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick ordered all except essential vehicles off the roads by 4 p.m. and said people should brace to be snowed in for two days. He said the storm was "profoundly different" from others the state has endured in recent years.

"This is going to be a very serious weather event," he said.

The Weather Channel called for as much as 2 feet of snow in Hartford, Conn., and as much as 15 inches in New York.

The storm was already being blamed for a 19-car pileup on Interstate 295 in Falmouth, Maine. Police said there were minor injuries.

Elsewhere, Rhode Island police asked people for loaner snowmobiles, and out-of-state utility crews headed for Connecticut to help. The governors of both states declared states of emergency.

Full coverage from The Weather Channel

Watch live video of the Northeast blizzard

"It's going to be crippling," said Jim Cantore, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

Airline cancellations piled up all morning. Almost 3,000 flights were scrapped for Friday and more than 1,000 more for Saturday, according to FlightAware.com. At the major airports in New York and New England, most major airlines said they would shut down completely Friday afternoon.

For people in the blizzard's path, forecasters and authorities had a clear message: Stay home.

Schools were closed in Boston and for most of New England. Patrick ordered non-essential state workers to stay home Friday and encouraged private employers to do the same. He said the snow would be "swift, heavy and dangerous." Boston planned to shut its subway system at 3:30 p.m.

In New York, where snow was falling by 7 a.m., the transit agency added more than 20 afternoon trains on its Metro-North commuter line from Grand Central Terminal to get people out of the city before the worst hit.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned people to stay in and to use public transportation if they had to go out, although even that carried the possibility of disruptions. The city had 250,000 tons of salt at the ready for the roads.

NBCNewYork.com said there were already lines of up to 40 cars at some gas stations, but Bloomberg said gas was plentiful. He encouraged New Yorkers to stay in and cook a meal or read a good book.

"This is a very serious storm, and we should treat it that way," said Tom Prendergast, president of the agency that runs New York subways and buses.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy said some highways might be closed.

"People need to take this storm seriously," Malloy said. "Please stay home once the weather gets bad except in the case of real emergency."

The weather service warned that the storm would be accompanied by winds almost as powerful as those packed by a hurricane.

"Visibilities will become poor, with whiteout conditions at times," the weather service said in an advisory issued Friday morning for the Boston area. "Those venturing outdoors may become lost or disoriented."

The winter storm gathered strength as two weather systems - a so-called clipper pattern sweeping across the Midwest and a band of rain from the South - began to converge over the Northeast.

The Weather Channel said that snow would be heavy at times Friday in New York state, parts of Pennsylvania and most of New England. By Friday night, forecasters called for snow falling at 2 to 3 inches per hour in New England.

Heavy, wind-driven snow was expected to coat New England on Saturday and shift to the New England coast by Saturday afternoon, the network said. Snow was finally expected to taper off in Boston by Saturday night and pull off the Maine coast by Sunday morning.

Amtrak said it would cancel train service between New York and Boston on Friday, with the last northbound train leaving New York at 12:30 p.m. and the last southbound train leaving Boston at 1:40.

Coastal areas of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island, were warned to brace for wind gusts over 70 mph. Those living on north- and east-facing shorelines from Boston south to Cape Cod Bay were told to prepare for tides 2 to 4 feet above normal.

Flooding and beach erosion were dangers, and the weather service warned of widespread coastal flooding from Boston northward.

"This one doesn't come along every day," said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist for the weather service. "Wherever you need to get to, get there by Friday afternoon and don't plan on leaving."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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