The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for most of Eastern Massachusetts beginning tomorrow at noon when a severe winter storm is expected to begin dumping 15 to 20 inches of snow on the region, likely bringing highway gridlock, power outages, and coastal flooding in its wake.
National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham said that sustained wind gusts of 35 miles per hour are likely to make visibility so bad by tomorrow night that people should stay home if at all possible. He said the blizzard warning applies to Massachusetts east of Worcester except for Cape Cod and the islands. In addition, coastal New Hampshire and most of Rhode Island are covered by the warning.
"It's going to be heavy snow," said Dunham. "Sometimes you refer to this kind of snow as 'heart attack' snow," because it is so heavy for people to shovel. He said the storm could well cause power outages and he urged people to keep batteries, portable radios and other necessities on hand. He predicted the Monday morning commute will be a nightmare.
The National Weather Service predicts that the storm will reach Cape Cod and Rhode Island by tomorrow morning and the rest of New England soon after, with the heaviest snowfall coming after dark. The Interstate 95 corridor from Boston to Providence is likely to be among the hardest hit areas, likely wreaking havoc with post-Christmas travel plans.
Even before it arrives, the first major storm of the winter is disrupting travel out of Logan Airport as airlines cancel flights from other storm-affected cities. Delta Airlines cancelled 500 flights nationwide today, including numerous flights from its hub in Atlanta to Boston, leaving some travellers scrambling to make other plans.
"It's just frustrating. I was supposed to work tomorrow and now I can't," said Chantel Johnson, 22, who had planned to be on one of Delta's cancelled flights to Tallahassee, Florida, where she works as a youth counselor. Instead, she was waiting in Terminal A for a ride back to her mother's home in Worcester.
Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella said, for now, the airport remains "wide open," but airport officials are watching the weather closely. He said the airport has 50 pieces of snow-removal equipment on standby, but if the snow becomes too heavy, he said the planes and runways are difficult to keep clear and pilots have difficulty seeing.
"We will try to keep the airport open as long as it's safe," said Orlandella. He said concerned travellers should contact their airline or visit the website of the agency that runs Logan, Massport, for the latest information on flight delays and cancellations.
The storm blanketed midwestern cities such as Chicago today and delivered a few inches of snow as far south as Alabama, according to the National Weather Service, before turning north toward New England. By this afternoon, the Weather Service had issued winter storm watches and warnings for virtually the entire East Coast from Maine to Georgia.
Meteorologists had been predicting a serious winter storm, but by 4:15 p.m. today, Dunham said the computer models showed the storm would be a full-scale blizzard from coastal New Hampshire to Rhode Island. Blizzards are storms where visibility is less than a quarter of a mile and winds frequently reach 35 miles per hour for at least three hours. Dunham said the warning for Massachusetts will be in effect from noon tomorrow until Monday afternoon.
Dunham said there is still an outside chance that the blizzard may not materialize, but "I'm as confident as you can be at any time in the weather business."
Cape Cod and the islands are not covered by the blizzard warning, but the weather service issued a separate wind warning for the region with gusts of up to 60 miles per hour by Monday. Dunham said the Cape is likely to get only a few inches of snow because much of the precipitation will fall as rain.
In addition, the National Weather Service has issued a coastal flooding warning for much of the New England coast. Flooding risk could be particularly acute in the early morning hours of Monday when the storm is at its peak and the tide is high.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation expects trucks to begin chemically treating the state's roads around 10 a.m. in hopes of reducing the amount of ice that forms during the storm. Department spokesman Adam Hurtubise said the agency has already notified the drivers of some 4,000 snow plows, sanders and salt trucks that their services will be needed to keep thousands of miles of road safe for drivers across the Commonwealth.
"Our folks will be out ahead of the storm and they will be out after the storm," said Hurtubise. "We are going to be adequately staffed."
Hurtubise said the storm's timing could help snow-clearing operations, noting that traffic is generally lighter on Sundays. In addition, he said Monday morning's commute would probably be lighter than normal because of the school vacation schedule.
At Logan this afternoon, savvy travellers were changing plans in hopes of getting out ahead of the storm.
Kim Marie Hastings, her fiance, Michael Gendreau, and her 18-year-old son, Ryan Chevalier, cut the Christmas celebration short at their Sturbridge home so that they could fly to Atlanta a day earlier.
Hastings explained that she would rather change plans than risk getting stranded for days, especially when Delta waived the usual $50 fee for changing flights.
But it was already too late for Susannah Hamblin and Jon Tilliss of Somerville, whose flight to Europe was delayed by the continued wintry weather there. The couple had planned to meet other family members for a reunion in Turkey, but their flight to Frankfurt, Germany, was delayed three hours due to snow, jeopardizing their connecting flight to Istanbul.
Hamblin said the waiting is stressful, but the couple tries to keep things in perspective.
"It ruins his life, but he gets over it," she said.
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