A major nor'easter that blanketed the state with snow is winding down tonight after causing spinouts and fender benders on the roads, delays and cancellations on trolleys and trains, a virtual shutdown of Logan International Airport, and tens of thousands of power outages.
Governor Deval Patrick urged people late this afternoon to continue to stay off the road tonight as the storm, which was expected to drop as much as 30 inches of snow in some areas of Western Massachusetts, eased out of the area. Even tomorrow, he said, drivers should exercise caution as workers continue to clear the roads.
"Fortunately, blessedly, there have been no serious injuries," he said.
Boston and a number of other school systems announced this afternoon that they would close school on Thursday for a second day, a move sure to lighten kids' hearts but leave their parents scrambling for child care arrangements. Boston also said it would extend its snow emergency parking ban to 9 a.m. Thursday.
Patrick said that not only was there more snow than originally forecast but in the eastern portion of the state it was wetter and heavier, which raised the likelihood of power outages.
More than 100,000 outages were reported at about noon. But that number had dwindled to about 24,000 by the late afternoon, Patrick said at a news conference. And he assured residents that state would "light a fire under the utilities" to get repairs completed and the lights and heat back on.
As a precautionary measure, Patrick had earlier declared a state of emergency and activated 250 National Guard members to help people without power get to seven regional shelters. Patrick said only about 10 people had used the shelters and he expected to release half or more of the National Guard members this evening.
More than 20 inches of snow was expected to accumulate in much of the state, with smaller amounts falling towards the coast and to the southeast. In Boston, 17.5 inches of snow had fallen by the early afternoon Roslindale, and 14.6 inches by the late afternoon in West Roxbury, according to reports collected by the National Weather Service.
At times this morning, blizzard conditions -- a dangerous combination of strong winds and blowing snow -- were reported along the coast. Some areas even reported "thundersnow" -- a snowstorm that includes thunder -- which could bring bursts of 2 to 4 inches of flakes in 30 minutes, said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton.
Forecasters said snow would gradually begin to taper off from west to east from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., with light snow or flurries persisting through the late evening. The snow won't completely stop until 2 or 3 a.m. Thursday, said weather service meteorologist Bill Simpson.
NStar reported on its website that approximately 9,000 customers were without power, mostly on the South Shore, including Marshfield and Plymouth, and in greater Boston.
Brockton Fire Chief Richard Francis said the city of Brockton had set up its own shelters for National Grid customers who had been without power since early this morning. Francis said most power outages have occurred in the southern and western parts of the city.
In the hard-hit Bridgewater area, Bridgewater Fire Chief George Rogers said more than 9,000 residents were without power this afternoon. Power outages began at 5:45 a.m., and power was beginning to be restored. Police in West Bridgewater said nearly the entire town was out of power at one point, but it started to come back on this afternoon. East Bridgewater Police Chief John Cowan said the town had been without power for about nine hours. All three towns set up emergency shelters for residents.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said dozens of crashes, including two tractor-trailer accidents, were been reported on the highways, as plows were unable to keep up with the storm and visibility dropped in blowing snow. None of the accidents, however, resulted in serious injuries or fatalities.
"Residents should stay off the roads if at all possible because conditions are dangerous. If residents have to drive, they are urged to go slow and call 911 on a cellphone if in distress," he said.
In Holbrook, a fire lieutenant was hurt when he was hit by a plow while responding to a downed power line on South Street.
Fire Chief Edward O'Brien said the private plow lost control. The firefighter was taken to Brockton Hospital suffering from a possible broken arm and other injuries.
Officials said the weight of the snow caused the limb to snap and it went through a child's room in the house. No injuries were reported.
In Waltham, a car crashed into an MBTA commuter rail train this morning, according to Waltham police. Police spokesman Lieutenant Mike Murphy said the car was traveling at a low speed when it hit the train.
Murphy said the car's two occupants, a male and a female, suffered minor injuries and were transported to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. The car received minor damage with only the front left bumper taken off. T Spokesman Joseph Pesaturo said service was only briefly delayed.
The MBTA reported various delays on commuter line trains through the day, as well as suspension of service on the Green Line's D branch from Reservoir to Riverside for much of the day. Buses were also used to replace the Red Line’s Mattapan high speed line. Commuter boat service from Hingham was canceled.
“Ridership is light, but we are open for business to the extent that folks cannot stay at home today,'' said MBTA General Manager Richard Davey.
The T website, mbta.com, experienced heavy usage and went down, but was back up by late morning. Riders can also call 617-222-3200 where operators can provide the same information available online, T officials said..
Amtrak said that due to a fallen tree in Sharon affecting power wires, service had been suspended between Boston and New York.
Logan International Airport was open, but Massport spokesman Phil Orlandella said airlines canceled hundreds of flights and the prospects for people flying out were not good.
“It looks like gloom and doom today,’’ he said. Orlandella urged travelers to check with their airlines before coming to the airport. He noted many airlines are waiving fees for rebooked flights.
Governor Patrick said that the service was improving by the late afternoon at Logan and "service will continue throughout tonight and tomorrow."
In Boston, firefighters were busy all over the city responding to downed power lines.
Spokesman Steve MacDonald said crews have been "flat out" since 3:30 a.m.
"It's the weight of the snow," said MacDonald. "The vast majority are cable lines. We are finding downed lines all over the city."
Russell Street in Charlestown was a problem area with downed trees and power lines.
City officials said in a statement shortly before 11 a.m. that they had fielded 364 reports of issues with trees and power lines and approximately 750 residents were without power in Hyde Park, Roslindale, West Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino reminded residents to stay indoors and asked them to be patient during storm cleanup after the flakes had fallen. The city said it had activated its storm center and residents with storm-related questions could call the mayor's hot line at 617-635-4500.
Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said the main concern for the day was damage to energy supplies from the heavy, wet snow. He said the coastal regions, which saw damaging flooding in last month's nor'easter, are likely to be spared this time because of astronomically low tides and the path the storm is taking.
All state offices and courthouses were closed, and dozens of school systems, colleges, and religious institutions were also shuttered. One option for snow day fun fizzled when the Blue Hill ski area announced this afternoon that it was closing due to power problems affecting the town of Milton.
Thousands of plows and other snowmoving equipment were at work throughout the day, beginning at 4 a.m., according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
With 11.6 inches of snow recorded at Logan International Airport by 4:48 p.m., the storm broke the previous record for the day of 6.7 inches, but appeared likely to fall far short of the top 10 Boston storms of all time.
Even after the heaviest snow ends, light snow and blowing snow will persist into the evening hours, forecasters said.
Globe correspondent Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.
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