HYANNIS -- A foot of snow blanketed much of Cape Cod early this morning, transforming beach towns into winter wonderlands and keeping many residents nestled inside.
Fat snowflakes began whirling into Hyannis after 10 last night coating everything from Christmas lights and trees to a few lone souls dashing to shelter.
But as the snowfall lightened through the morning across the coastal part of the state, the winds began to ease up, and the blizzard warning that had been in effect for large swaths of Massachusetts and Southern New England was downgraded to a winter storm warning, except for the Cape and Islands, said Neal Strauss, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton.
Whiteout conditions remained across Cape Cod and the islands and portions of Plymouth County, as of early afternoon.
"We're looking at an intensifying coastal storm located southeast of Nantucket this morning, and this system is transporting moisture off the Atlantic Ocean," with gusting winds along the coast, Strauss said. "Across the South Shore area, where they've been hit the hardest, the snow will continue until the afternoon, and out on the Cape it may not taper off till early this evening."
Snowfall reports from the National Weather Service's network of observers varied widely: 7.9 inches as of 7 a.m. in Winthrop, 14 inches as of 10:15 a.m. in Jamaica Plain, 15 inches in West Falmouth as of 9:35 a.m., 10 inches in North Reading at 10:15 a.m., and 22 inches in West Greenwich, R.I., at 9 a.m.
On average, the final tally is expected to be about 15 inches across southeastern Massachusetts, decreasing to a foot or less in Boston and beyond, with half a foot or less expected in the central and western part of the state. Amherst had reported an inch and a half of snow as of 9 a.m.
"We're seeing sun coming out in western Mass.," Strauss said.
The storm qualified as a northeaster, but meteorologists were still analyzing data to determine if it met the definition of a blizzard, with visibility of a quarter mile or less and sustained or gusting winds of 35 mph or more for at least three consecutive hours, Strauss said.
Logan Airport has remained open throughout the storm, but many airlines canceled or delayed flights. One runway is open and a second can be ready for use quickly, should the airlines decide to resume a full schedule, said Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Logan.
"We used one runway because the demand was very low this morning, very little activity in and out," said Orlandella, who could not quantify the number of delays and cancelations, which is not tracked by the airport. "We did meet with the airlines at 7 o'clock this morning and they told us they were slowly ramping up and increasing their flights throughout the rest of the day, and that appears to be happening."
Orlandella said the delays and cancellations this morning were partly a result of cancelations last night due to bad weather down the coast. "Last night we didn't get a lot of inbound flights, so there were no flights here to get out," he said.
With flights out of Logan in the coming week already booked at 90 percent capacity ahead of Christmas, travelers whose flights have been canceled should call their airline to rebook before coming to Logan to try to get on a new flight. "We're expecting a very busy day tomorrow," he said.
As of late morning, no serious accidents had been reported on the roads, according to a State Police spokesman. "There have been minor incidents going on throughout the night. We have responded to 100 snow-related incident and about half of them were just spinouts and so forth," said spokesman David Mahan. "The worst of it is down in the South Shore, but we hope the worst is over. We advise people to stay home if you can. If not, to keep the speed down."
He said traffic was backed up considerably on I-95 southbound in Southboro after a tanker jackknifed on the road, and only one lane was open.
Tom Perry, 49, was plowing snow on Route 132 in Hyannis early this morning.
Since he started plowing at midnight, he said he has faced whiteouts and dastardly winds.
"It's impossible to keep up with. It's so heavy and wet and the winds are fierce," Perry said, as snowflakes flung at his hair through the driver's window.
The roads were so treacherous that even with his plow, Perry got stuck.
"A couple locals dug me out the first time," he said as a pickup truck crawled by on the highway.
More than a handful of drivers abandoned had their cars on the snow-covered roads.
"Hopefully people will use common sense and just stay home," he said.
Globe Correspondent Michael Corcoran contributed to this report.>
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