A storm that forecasters warned could be a blizzard for the history books pounded the New York-to-Boston corridor — home to nearly 25 million people — on Friday, grounding flights, closing workplaces and sending people rushing to get home. Forecasters predicted up 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."
By Friday evening, Boston had 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) of snow and New York City had just 2 inches (5 centimeters), but parts of southeastern Massachusetts had more than 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) and central Rhode Island had more than 8 inches (20.3 centimeters).
More than 118,000 homes and businesses lost electricity, mostly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Airlines cancelled more than 4,300 flights through Saturday. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick banned all traffic from roads Friday afternoon, believed to be the state's first such ban since the blizzard of 1978.
"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, Massachusetts.
The heaviest snowfall was expected Friday night and into Saturday. Wind gusts could reach 75 mph (121 kph). Widespread power failures were feared, along with flooding in coastal areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in October.
Boston could get nearly a meter of snow, while New York City was expecting up to 12 inches (30 centimeters). Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby.
Snow was being blamed for a 19-car pileup in Maine on Friday morning.
Amtrak rail stopped its Northeast trains Friday afternoon. The organizers of New York's Fashion Week — a closely watched series of fashion shows held under a big tent — 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.
Airlines cancelled more than 4,300 flights for Friday and Saturday, according to airline tracking website FlightAware. New York City's three main airports and Boston's Logan started shutting down in the afternoon.
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, Connecticut, and Providence. The warnings extended into New Hampshire and Maine.
In New England, it could prove to be among the top 10 snowstorms in history, and perhaps even break Boston's record of 27.6 inches (70 centimeters), set in 2003, the National Weather Service said.
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." He added: "Everybody's going to get plastered with snow."
Some gas stations ran out of fuel during the rush to prepare for the storm. Long lines were reported at many stations.