A storm expected to bring more than a foot of snow in places along with strong winds and punishing cold pushed into the Northeast on Thursday, extending Christmas break for some students while posing the first test for New York's new mayor and perhaps the last challenge for Boston's outgoing one.
Some schools in New England and New York closed well ahead of the snow or planned early dismissals, while cities issued parking bans and readied homeless shelters. U.S. airlines canceled more than 1,800 flights nationwide on Thursday in advance of the storm.
The heavy weather began rolling just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation's largest city and days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.
Menino declared a snow emergency and parking ban and said schools would be closed Friday in Boston, where up to 14 inches of snow was expected.
“What a New Year's gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor,” said Menino, whose successor takes office Monday.
Snow began falling overnight Wednesday in parts of New England and New York, but the brunt of the storm wasn't expected until late Thursday. Forecasters said temperatures would plummet, with some areas seeing highs just above zero and wind-chill readings of minus-10 and colder.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod and Long Island — where 8 to 10 inches of snow could fall and winds could gust up to 45 mph — from Thursday evening into Friday afternoon.
“We're going to see a lot of snow and a lot of wind,” forecaster Jason Tuell said. “We're concerned about whiteout conditions possibly tonight with the blowing and drifting snow.”
Douglass Bibule shopped for rock salt and other supplies at a home improvement store in Watertown, Mass.
“Well, there will be some shoveling that I will have to do and some sanding. I've got to go home and do some stretching exercises to make sure I don't hurt myself while doing that, and do a little shopping to make sure that we have all the supplies that we need. We need food because we have three older children at home.”
Sections of interior southern New England and New York state could get up to a foot of snow. New York City was expecting 8 inches, while Philadelphia could see 3 to 7.
“Santa brought me a snowblower, and I've got rock salt for the ice, so now I'm just waiting for the storm,” Jonas Caldwell said in Toms River, N.J.
Caldwell, an investment adviser, said he could work from home if necessary, but he was hoping that wouldn't be the case.
“There are too many distractions at home,” he said. “But I won't be stupid. … If it gets as bad as they say it will be, or looks like it will, I'll be staying put.”
As the storm pushed eastward, it dropped up to a foot of snow on Michigan and 6 inches or more in Illinois, prompting the cancellation Wednesday of hundreds of flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com.
AAA Michigan said it received 500 calls by midmorning Thursday from drivers dealing with spinouts, cars in ditches and dead batteries. Accidents and delays were also reported from Missouri to New Hampshire.
“Anything below 25 degrees and the salt isn't nearly as effective,” said Becky Allmeroth, a maintenance engineer with the state of Missouri, where crews were mixing chemicals and beet juice with salt to try to make roads passable.
Authorities said the weather may have been a factor in a fatal crash Wednesday evening involving a pickup and a bus carrying casino patrons in Indiana. Police said the truck's driver was killed and 15 bus passengers were injured in the collision on a snow-covered and slushy highway in Rolling Prairie.