Updated: Fri, 08 Feb 2013 12:32:32 GMT | By John Newland, Staff Writer, NBC News

'Very serious' winter storm begins battering New England



Snowplows sit parked at a New York Department of Sanitation depot as snow begins to swirl in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Snowplows sit parked at a New York Department of Sanitation depot as snow begins to swirl in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Updated at 5:35 p.m. ET: A powerful winter storm swept into New England Friday, with gusting wind and heavy snow causing the first anticipated power outages in Massachusetts and dozens of accidents and shortages at gas stations in Connecticut, as forecasters warned that the worst was yet to come.

More than 800 National Guard soldiers and airmen were activated in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York to provide roadway support, emergency transportation, and back-up for first responders, the Department of Defense announced Friday evening, as governors warned people to get home and be prepared to be socked in without power.

Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights on Friday, Boston closed its subway, Amtrak suspended some service, and cities across the Northeast prepared to deploy an armada of snowplows and salt-spreading trucks. Governors in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts announced restrictions on driving.

In the most sweeping of those orders, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ordered all non-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.

Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut banned car traffic on limited-access highways starting at 4 p.m.

"If you don't currently have a reason to be on the road, if you're not an emergency personnel that's required to report to work somewhere, stay home," Malloy said at a state armory news conference. "This is it. Things are starting to accumulate."

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.

By mid-afternoon, more than 5,000 power outages had been reported around the state as winds knocked down tree limbs and wires, the Boston Globe reported.

Gusting winds were reported throughout the northeast, with island of Nantucket, off the Massachusetts coast, getting blasts of up to 59 mph, according to meteorologist Dale Eck of The Weather Channel.

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

The storm was 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

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 shut down 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.

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 said, snow would be falling at 2 to 3 inches per hour in New England.

Heavy, wind-driven snow was expected to blanket New England on Saturday taper off in by Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Sandy survivors: It's like a repeat 'nightmare' 

Amtrak canceled 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, from Boston northward.

The Weather Service posted a coastal flood warning for southern Fairfield County, saying Friday evening's high tide could be 3 to 5 feet higher than normal in western Long Island Sound.

"I'm really nervous," Kathy Niznansky, a 65-year-old teacher in Fairfield, told The Associated Press. Nizmansky is still recovering from flooding from Superstorm Sandy which arrived on her birthday and knocked her out of her house near the beach for two months. "Now I'm really worried about this tide tonight. I just don't want any more flooding."

NBC News staff writer John Newland and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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