With high winds from Hurricane Sandy set to begin battering Massachusetts a couple of hours past midnight, Governor Deval Patrick spoke to the state this afternoon, encouraging all schools and colleges to close, and all non-essential workers to stay home.
“We’re asking everyone who can to stay off the roads,” the governor said during a news conference in the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham.
The worst winds will bring hurricane force gusts of up to 60 to 80 miles per hour by Monday afternoon, and “you could see one or two gusts reaching up to 90, especially along the coast where they’re more exposed,” said Ken Haydu, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton.
Officials are considering evacuating parts of coastal areas, he added, with determinations being made on a street-by-street basis.
Sunday evening, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Massachusetts, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local efforts.
Harwich already reported a few hundred homes and businesses have lost power because of winds flowing into the area in advance of the storm, which the National Weather Service said is arriving sooner than expected.
As its center cools, the storm is expanding faster than anticipated, Haydu said, but the intensity isn’t waning.
Although Hurricane Sandy is expected to bring less rain than Hurricane Irene did last year, when flooding decimated roads in Vermont, more powerful winds may result in more extensive power outages.
The worst winds in Massachusetts will arrive as early as Monday afternoon, hours before Hurricane Sandy is predicted to make landfall in New Jersey by midnight or soon after.
State and utility officials urged residents to be cautious when using portable generators, and public safety officials encouraged everyone to stock up on drinking water, batteries for radios, and nonperishable food in case power outages persist.
“We haven’t seen things this bad in quite a while,” said Haydu.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is hospitalized with a virus, announced today that Boston Public Schools will close Monday, and he urged non-essential city workers to stay home.
“I urge Boston employers to assist the city in keeping residents safe, and allow employees to work from home,” the mayor said in a statement.
To offer parents a place to bring children, the Boston Centers for Youth & Families will open the Curtis Hall, Hyde Park, Paris Street, and Tobin community centers from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday.
Significant winds should begin at about 2 a.m. Monday in Nantucket, said Haydu of the National Weather Service, and “by the time you get to Plymouth, you’re talking 5 to 6 a.m.; Boston, 8 or 9.”
Logan Airport plans to remain open, said Danny Levy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, though those with plans to fly should call before leaving home, because airlines may make individual decisions about flights.
“I do not anticipate the airport closing for the storm,” she said. “I would suggest that travelers should check with the airlines before venturing to the airport.”
Meanwhile, the MBTA plans to operate normal bus, subway, commuter rail, and RIDE service Monday “for as long as it is safe to do so,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail, but commuter boats won’t run.
Amtrak announced on its website that it has canceled Northeast Corridor service north of New York City as of 7 p.m. today, and nearly all Eastern Seaboard service Monday. The Greyhound and Peter Pan bus companies used their websites to list service suspension on lines south and west of New York City, and in some instances north to Boston.
The website for the Steamship Authority said the company anticipates possible trip cancellations from tonight into Tuesday from the Cape to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Hy-Line cruises canceled its schedule today and might do so again tomorrow. A spokeswoman encouraged potential passengers to check the travel alert on the company's website.
Caroline Pretyman, an NStar spokeswoman, said the company activated its emergency response plan as of midnight Friday and called in crews from states across the country.
“I’ve seen some here today from Tennessee and Florida,” she said of the scene in a company parking lot in Westwood.
Nearly 4,000 NStar workers are in place in Massachusetts, she said, assisted by about 200 outside crews and 132 tree crews.
David Graves, a National Grid spokesman, said in an e-mail that several thousand utility employees had storm assignments, and that supplemental crews were arriving.
Alberto Robles drove from Bridgewater, N.J., to buy the last generator available in Dorchester’s Home Depot. He ordered it online after learning that every New Jersey store had sold out.
“Pretty much all of the stores going west all the way out to Ohio ... were all sold out, so we had to start going up,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing it except for the high winds they’re saying will come in, especially in New Jersey.”
On Capitol Street off West Beach in New Bedford this morning, 80-year-old Albert Correia had already boarded up all the windows on his one-story ranch house.
Correia had brought his lawn furniture inside and said forecasts of high wind and rain have him on edge.
“With the reports we get from radio and TV, you would say, ‘My God,’” Correia said.
People should think just that, Haydu said. Forecasters are particularly concerned about the duration of the storm, which is prompting storm warnings up the New England coast to Maine’s border with Canada.
“There’s going to be 18 to 24 hours of strong winds,” Haydu said.
Hurricane Sandy, he added, is “becoming a very very large storm and we expect the wind to be spread over a very large area. This isn’t something you can say, ‘This might miss us.’ No, this is not going to miss us.”