BOSTON -A storm poised to dump up to two feet or more of snow from New York City to Boston and beyond could be one for the record books, forecasters warned, as residents scurried to stock up on food and water and road crews readied salt and sand.
In addition to heavy snow accumulation, hurricane-force winds are expected in coastal areas.
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, Conn., and Providence. The warnings extended into New Hampshire and Maine.
Before the first snowflake had fallen, Boston, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and other New England cities canceled school Friday, and airlines scratched more than 3,000 flights through Saturday, with the disruptions from the blizzard certain to ripple across the U.S.
"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, Mass. "Wherever you need to get to, get there by Friday afternoon and don't plan on leaving."
The snow is expected to start Friday morning, with the heaviest amounts falling Friday night and into Saturday. Wind gusts could reach 75 mph. Widespread power failures were feared, along with flooding in coastal areas still recovering from superstorm Sandy in October.
Boston could see more than two feet of snow, while New York City was expecting 10 to 12 inches. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby.
To the south, Philadelphia was looking at a possible 4 to 6 inches.
"We hope forecasts are exaggerating the amount of snow, but you never can tell," Bloomberg said, adding that at least the bad weather is arriving on a weekend, when the traffic is lighter and snowplows can clean up the streets more easily.
The travel nightmare has begun
Airlines cancelled 3,775 flights Thursday, Friday and Saturday in preparation for the blizzard in the Northeast, according to FlightAware.com.
Starting this afternoon, all flights in and out of Boston's Logan International Airport have been cancelled. Another 1,800 flights in the New York City area are also cancelled, affecting schedule, flight crews and passengers all across the country.
Philadelphia International Airport is reporting delays on inbound flights an average of 1.5 hours due to low clouds.
CBS News correspondent Terrell Brown also reports that Amtrak is suspending service in the Northeast Corridor this afternoon, with no trains between New York and Boston. Forecasters are calling the I-95 corridor today "treacherous," with white-out conditions.
Brown says forecasters are saying the snow will fall quickly and accumulate fast, so get to a safe place and be there, because you may have to stay there for quite some time.
New England braces
For New England this could prove to be among the top 10 snowstorms in history, forecasters said, and perhaps even break Boston's record of 27.6 inches, set in 2003. The last major snowfall in southern New England was well over a year ago -- the Halloween storm of 2011.
"This storm has the potential to be one of those events that you remember for a lifetime," said meteorologist Terry Eliasen, executive weather producer of CBS Station WBZ.
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," adding, "Everybody's going to get plastered with snow."
Diane Lopes was among the shoppers who packed a supermarket Thursday in the coastal fishing city of Gloucester, Mass. She said she went to a different grocery earlier in the day but it was too crowded. Lopes said she has strep throat and normally wouldn't leave the house but had to stock up on basic foods -- "and lots of wine."
She chuckled at the excitement the storm was creating in a place where snow is routine.
"Why are us New Englanders so crazy, right?" she said.
At a Shaw's supermarket in Belmont, Mass., Susan Lichtenstein stocked up, with memories of a 1978 blizzard on her mind. "This is panic shopping, so bread, milk, a snow shovel in case our snow shovel breaks," she said.
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 travelers to stay home.
Terrance Rodriguez, a doorman at a luxury apartment complex in Boston, took the forecast in stride.
"It's just another day in Boston. It's to be expected. We're in a town where it's going to snow," he said. "It's like doomsday prep. It doesn't need to be. People just take it to the extreme."
New York City: Snow and storm surge
The city is bracing for up to a foot of snow, and wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour, which could complicate removing some of that snow.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not taking any chances with this storm, after receiving criticism for his management of snow removal during the blizzard of 2010, where some people remained snowbound for days in outer reaches of the city. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports the city is standing by with 250,000 tons of salt, to be deployed using 365 salt spreaders.
Storm surge is also a concern, with the city expecting three to five feet in some areas - not particularly significant, but for areas of Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island that received so much damage during Superstorm Sandy, there could be localized flooding where those coastal defenses are down.
The organizers of New York's Fashion Week, a closely-watched series of fashion shows being held under a big tent at Lincoln Center, 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.
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