Forecasters say the worst winds will arrive in Massachusetts after noon Monday, hours before Hurricane Sandy makes landfall in New Jersey, expected around midnight or soon after. Falling trees and branches are expected take down power lines, creating more extensive outages than were experienced last year during Hurricane Irene.
The storm’s anticipated duration of 18 to 24 hours also separates Sandy from Irene, which brought less wind but more rain, particularly in hard-hit Vermont.
“We haven’t seen things this bad in quite a while,” said Ken Haydu, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton. “We’re going to see a lot of trees down.”
The Boston area is expected to get 1 to 2 inches of rain, and 1 to 3 inches could fall in Worcester and further west. Some isolated pockets in the western part of the state could see up to 5 inches.
The storm also is curtailing travel by air, train, and bus. State agencies and businesses asked passengers to check websites and schedules for airlines, Amtrak, and bus companies before leaving home.
On Sunday evening, President Obama signed an emergency declaration for Massachusetts, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local efforts.
Utilities, meanwhile, called in extra crews from as far away as the West Coast and canceled vacations for employees.
Across the region, shoppers filled grocery and hardware stores, and at least one man drove from New Jersey to Boston because, he said, every other Home Depot along the way had sold out of generators.
The storm prompted Suffolk Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke to postpone for at least a day the start of Dwayne Moore’s retrial on charges that he murdered four people in Mattapan in 2010.
The worst winds will bring hurricane-force gusts of up to 60 to 80 miles per hour, and “you could see one or two gusts reaching up to 90, especially along the coast, where they’re more exposed,” Haydu said.
On Sunday afternoon, Harwich was among the first communities in Massachusetts to report that homes and businesses had lost power because of winds hitting in advance of the storm, which the National Weather Service said is arriving sooner than expected.
As its center cooled, the storm expanded faster than anticipated, Haydu said, but its intensity did not wane.
Alberto Robles arrived in Boston from Bridgewater, N.J., on Sunday to buy the last generator available in the Home Depot in Dorchester. He had 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.”
In Scituate, officials said the town was preparing for “potential major impacts’’ from Hurricane Sandy and warned that residents could lose power for as long as five days. Scituate schools will be closed Monday; the high school was scheduled to open as a shelter Sunday night.
“Please be advised that if you do lose power, you should anticipate at least 72 hours before it will be restored,” Scituate officials said on the municipal website.
Police issued a voluntary evacuation order for all residents of Plum Island in Newburyport. The American Red Cross planned to open a shelter at the Newbury Elementary School Sunday, and a regional pet shelter was set to open at the same time in the Newburyport animal shelter. Officials urged residents to evacuate before 9 a.m. Monday, because emergency services will not be able to access Plum Island for several hours at the height of the storm.
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 portable radios, and nonperishable food.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is hospitalized with a virus, announced that Boston’s public schools would close Monday.
“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.
The American Red Cross said shelters also would open in Fall River and Weymouth.
On Cape Cod, the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee said three shelters will open Monday as warranted, at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in Yarmouth, and Sandwich High School in Sandwich. The latter two include animal shelters.
Logan Airport plans to remain open, said Danny Levy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which announced on its website, however, that “several airlines have already canceled flights.”
Because of anticipated delays and cancellations, Levy suggested travelers check with the airlines before heading to the airport.
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 will not run.
Amtrak said it canceled nearly all Eastern Seaboard service for Monday. On their websites, the Greyhound and Peter Pan bus companies listed 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 expects to suspend service Monday into Tuesday from the Cape to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Hy-Line Cruises canceled its Monday schedule.
Caroline Pretyman, an NStar spokeswoman, said the company activated its emergency response plan as of midnight Friday and called in crews from across the country.
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.
Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford said Sunday that no mandatory evacuation order is in place, but he recommended that residents in low-lying areas in the city’s south end leave voluntarily. He said a shelter was scheduled to open at Keith Middle School on Sunday night, and a second will open on Monday morning.
Schools will close on Monday; officials have not decided if they will open Tuesday, or if streets will be sufficiently free of debris Wednesday for trick-or-treating.
“Far be it from me to want to cancel Halloween,” Mitchell said, “but what we’re going to do is to see how it goes.”
On Capitol Street off West Beach in New Bedford on Sunday morning, 80-year-old Albert Correia had 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 had him on edge. “With the reports we get from radio and TV, you would say, ‘My God,’ ” Correia said.
People should think just that, said Haydu of the National Weather Service. Forecasters are particularly concerned about the duration of the storm, which is prompting storm warnings up the New England coast to 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.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Globe staff writer David Dahl contributed to this report, as did Globe correspondents Evan Allen, Jessica Bartlett, Natalie Feulner, Jaclyn Reiss, and Martha Shanahan.