Some schools in New England and New York closed well ahead of the snow, while cities mobilized plows and salt spreaders, and state offices sent workers home early. Some major highways were ordered closed overnight. U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights nationwide on Thursday in advance of the storm.
The heavy weather began rolling in just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation's largest city and a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.
Menino announced a parking ban and said schools would be closed Friday in Boston, where up to 14 inches of snow was expected. Boston's airport said it would not handle any flights after 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
"What a New Year's gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor," said Menino, whose successor takes office Monday.
De Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticized predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a post-Christmas storm, said hundreds of plows and salt spreaders would be on the streets as soon as the snow started falling Thursday night.
"We have to get it right, no question about it," de Blasio said. "We are focused like a laser on protecting this city and getting everyone ready. We have all hands on deck."
Snow began falling overnight Wednesday in parts of New England and New York state, 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 to 45 mph.
"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."
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.
In New York, Con Ed spokesman Sidney Alvarez said the utility was expecting the snow to be powdery rather than wet and heavy, "but with any type of snow, you're looking at extra weight on branches that can snap and bring power lines down."
As the storm pushed eastward on New Year's Day and Thursday, it dropped as much as 18 inches on suburban Chicago and up to a foot on Michigan, prompting the cancellation Wednesday of hundreds of flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Below-zero cold is expected across the region over the next few days.
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.
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