NEW YORK (AP) – Officials cautioned Northeast residents to not be misled by a relatively smooth Monday morning commute, and pressed their cautions to prepare for a “crippling and potentially historic” storm that could bury communities from northern New Jersey to southern Maine in up to 2 feet of snow starting later in the day.
They warned that getting home could be difficult and asked residents to avoid any unnecessary travel.
The National Weather Service said the nor’easter would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding through Tuesday. A blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast, including New York and Boston.
The morning commute was delayed Monday for drivers on a section of Interstate 81 near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A tractor-trailer jack knifed, and a truck hauling beer crashed into the median. No injuries were reported.
Some schools were planning to close early or not open at all Monday in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Government officials began to activate emergency centers on Sunday as professional sports teams, schools and utilities hastily revised their schedules and made preparations.
“This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference in a Manhattan sanitation garage where workers were preparing plows and salt for the massive cleanup on about 6,000 miles of city roadways.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are “very hard, if not impossible, to navigate,” power outages and possibly even a lack of public transportation.
Boston is expected to get 18 to 24 inches of snow, with up to 2 feet or more west of the city, and Philadelphia could see up to a foot, the weather service said.
The Washington area expected only a couple of inches, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm heads north.
“We do anticipate very heavy snowfall totals,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the weather service in College Park, Maryland. “In addition to heavy snow, with blizzard warnings, there’s a big threat of high, damaging winds, and that will be increasing Monday into Tuesday. A lot of blowing, drifting and such.”
President Barack Obama, who is traveling in India, has been briefed on the storm, spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. White House officials also have been in touch with officials from states “up and down the Eastern seaboard” that are in the storm’s path, Earnest said.
Wind gusts of 75 mph or more are possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph further inland, Oravec said.
Airlines canceled and delayed thousands of flights into and out of East Coast airports. Most major airlines are allowing customers whose flights are canceled in the next few days to book new flights without paying a penalty.
A storm system driving out of the Midwest brought several inches of snow to Ohio on Sunday. A new low pressure system was expected to form off the Carolina coast and ultimately spread from the nation’s capital to Maine for a “crippling and potentially historic blizzard,” the weather service said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged commuters to stay home on Monday and warned that mass transit and roadways could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway, Interstate 84 and the Long Island Expressway.
In New York City, the Greater New York Taxi Association offered free cab service for emergency responders trying to get to work, and disabled and elderly residents who become stranded.
The New York Rangers decided to practice Monday afternoon at the Islanders’ home arena on Long Island instead of at their own training facility just outside New York City. They’ll stay overnight on Long Island for Tuesday’s game against their rival – if it’s still held.
The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots expected to be out of town by the time the storm arrives in Boston. The team plans to leave Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.