Cities across the Northeast on Monday were bracing for up to two feet of snow, and airlines canceled thousands of flights, as a potentially historic storm pushed its way up the east coast.
Snow was blowing sideways with ever-increasing intensity in New York City by early afternoon as flurries began in Boston. Forecasters said the storm would build into a blizzard, and the brunt of it would hit late Monday and into Tuesday.
By 7 p.m. Monday, close to 5 inches of snow fell in parts of New York City, according to the National Weather Service, while parts of Pennsylvania saw as much as 3 inches.
The National Weather Service said the nor'easter would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding as a blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast. The storm is expected to last up to 36 hours in some locations, forecasters said.
More than 6,500 flights were canceled, schools and businesses planned to close early and cities mobilized snowplows and salt spreaders, getting ready for a dangerously windy blast that could instantly make up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast. Forecasters said the brunt of the storm would hit Monday evening and into Tuesday. Boston is expected to get 2 to 3 feet, New York 1.5 to 2 feet, and Philadelphia a foot or so.
Authorities banned travel on all streets and highways in New York City and on Long Island and warned that violators could be fined $300. Driving bans took effect across New Jersey and Connecticut at 11 p.m. on Monday. A driving ban in Masschusetts began at midnight.
Public transportation systems in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were suspended, and Hudson River crossings were as a snowstorm bore down on the region.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the nor'easter has the potential to be "the biggest snowstorm in the history of this city."
"It is not a regular storm," de Blasio said. "What you are going to see in a few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast."
The biggest snowfall on record in New York City came during the storm of Feb. 11-12, 2006, which dropped 26.9 inches on the metropolis.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared a state of emergency Monday, said the New York City metro area would consider enacting a travel ban, depending on weather forecast models from later in the day.
"This is not a storm to take lightly, and we’re taking what we believe to be prudent measures," Cuomo said Monday afternoon.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday also declared a state of emergency and ordered a travel ban on Connecticut highways that will take affect at 9 p.m. Monday night. The governor also said power outages could potentially exceed 100,000 customers, with forecasters warning of a two-day snowfall total of 20 to 30 inches and winds gusting more than 30 mph to as much as 75 mph in some areas.
"People need to take this storm seriously," Malloy said in a statement. "If current predictions are accurate, we will need people to stay off the roads so that emergency personnel and utility crews can get to the places they need to get to, and to make sure that our plows can keep critical roadways clear."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency earlier Monday and authorized the closing of state offices beginning at 1 p.m. Christie urged residents to stay home if possible to allow first responders and transportation officials to deal with the effects of the storm, including snow removal. The central part of the state is expected to get up to two feet of snow. Potential flooding along the New Jersey Shore is also cause of concern.
"Starting later this afternoon, you should stay home if you can. The same goes for all day tomorrow," Christie said.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are "very hard, if not impossible, to navigate," power outages and possibly a lack of public transportation. Boston's Logan Airport said there would be no flights after 7 p.m. Monday, and the shutdown could last until late Wednesday. About 20 to 30 inches of snow is forecast for Boston and its suburbs.
Al Jazeera and wire services