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Northeaster slams N.E.

Over 20 inches of snow expected in some areas

A marathon early season northeaster blanketed much of southern New England with snow yesterday, disrupting travel, blinding motorists, and bullying some shoppers into staying home. Snow is expected to continue through today and may reach record-setting levels in Boston.

 

The first major snowfall of the season -- about two weeks before the official start of winter -- was expected to dump 1 to 2 feet across most of Greater Boston, meteorologists said. Snow totals across the region varied, from 7 1/2 inches in Falmouth to 13 inches in Beverly as of 6 p.m. yesterday.

"The greatest [Boston] snowstorm in December was 18.2 inches from the 20th to the 22d in 1975. So maybe we should snuff that record out," said Mike Carbone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Taunton office.

Logan Airport remained open throughout the storm yesterday, but 334 of the 850 flights on a typical Saturday were canceled, as of 3 p.m. "The story here today is cancellations," said Phil Orlandella, spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston declared emergency parking restrictions in the city yesterday afternoon. Many religious education classes, SAT examinations, and the state's high school football playoff championships also fell victim to the storm.

State police reported hundreds of mostly minor accidents and spinouts along state highways, blaming drivers, in part, for going too fast.

Still, this weekend's massive storm, which began Friday evening, has caused far less chaos than Tuesday's early morning 15-minute snow squall that flash-froze roads and caused rush-hour gridlock across much of the state.

"I would prefer never to have snow or ice events, but if we're going to have it, the weekend is the best time," said Mass Highway Commissioner John Cogliano. "You't have those peak communting hours [on a weekend]. On Tuesday, you had the snow and ice equipment . . . trying to lay down salt and they're stuck in traffic. We're able to work a little more freely in this environment."

The powerful storm, whose winds blew in from the northeast, pounded the entire East Coast yesterday, leaving disgruntled travelers and plenty of white stuff in its wake. Stiff winds blew the snow sideways in places and whipped up rough surf along the New Jersey shore. A foot of snow already had fallen by midday yesterday in western Maryland and parts of Pennsylvania.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at the New York metropolitan area's La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark airports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reported. Hundreds of travelers had spent the night camped out at La Guardia.

The storm was blamed for at least five traffic deaths, one in Pennsylvania, and two each in New Jersey and Virginia.

Locally, the storm was less severe, with minor power outages and some minor coastal flooding comprising the brunt of the damage, in addition to numerous car accidents on icy roads.

"We've had about 50 spinouts this morning from the Brighton tolls to Middleborough," said State Police Trooper Todd Gliddon, standing alongside an unharmed Boston College student whose Jeep had spun out on the Massachusetts Turnpike yesterday morning. "People should be driving 25 miles per hour. It's that bad."

Winds are expected to approach 35 miles per hour in the Boston area today, close to blizzard condition, promising more difficult driving conditions, police and the Weather Service said. A coastal flooding watch was in effect for 10 p.m. last night with possible flooding expected at high tide at 10 a.m. today.

Mass Highway officials said they planned on keeping between 3,000 and 4,000 trucks on state roads last night.

Local public works departments also remained busy, with the heaviest snows expected last night north of Boston. As of 6 p.m. yesterday, Rockport had received 5 inches, Wakefield 13 1/2 inches, and Chelmsford 3 1/2 inches, according to the Weather Service.

Elsewhere in the state, Needham recorded 13 inches, Attleboro 9 inches, and North Amherst 4 1/2 inches.

For many, it was not the day to venture outside. At Krispy Kreme in Medford, hot glazed donuts rolled off a stainless steel assembly line like they do every Saturday morning. But instead of lines snaking to the door, at 9 a.m., just one customer stood at the counter.

"It's a first. We're doing about 1 percent of the business we usually do," said manager Christine Harris. "We had about 2,000 doughnuts requested for fund-raisers, but almost half have canceled. But we're still open for the plow guys."

Jenna Lowe, 24, of Cambridge, was one of only a handful of shoppers at DSW Shoe Warehouse in Shopper's World yesterday in Framingham, where employees outnumbered the customers.

Perusing the women's boot aisle, Lowe said she'd lost almost her entire wardrobe in an apartment fire three weeks ago.

"I was totally dedicated to coming here to shoe-shop today. No matter what," she said.

Seeing only a handful of brave bargain-hunters, and a growing winter storm, store owners at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets locked their doors at noon, promising customers that the mall's 170 stores would reopen at 10 a.m. today.

The Burlington Mall, meanwhile, closed at 4 p.m.

But in Braintree, blustery winds and heaping snowdrifts didn't stop shoppers from taking advantage of holiday sales at the South Shore Plaza.

"We are actually seeing unbelievably good business," said spokesman Dan Raio. "There seems to be an awful lot of shoppers here, and frankly I'm surprised that people are out, weathering the storm."

In Downtown Crossing, plenty of shoppers braved the slippery and snowy sidewalks to continue their holiday shopping. At Brattle Bookshop on West Street, the snow was bad enough to cover up the outdoor bookshelves, but the store still did a relatively brisk business.

Menino urged Boston residents to get out and shop, as well as obey storm-related parking bans. "We will make sure the public can get around, and we want people to come downtown. But we also need to let Public Works do their jobs," he said.

Joseph F. Casazza, city public works commissioner, also asked residents to refrain from shoveling snow from cars and sidewalks onto roadways.

"We're doing everything we can to make the school bus stops safe for Monday morning. Maybe if we're lucky on Wednesday, it will be 50 degrees," he said.

On Cape Cod, where snow had turned to rain by late yesterday, police reported sloppy, slushy conditions but no major problems. "At this point, the main roads are clear," said Officer Rachel Peters, of the Provincetown Police Department.

The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard & Nantucket Steamship Authority suspended the ferry to Martha's Vineyard after the 2:45 p.m. run, and officials said service was doubtful to resume yesterday. Service to Nantucket was on a trip-by-trip basis, according to an authority press release.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, towed a disabled 72-foot trawler off the coast of Martha's Vineyard to safety. The Miss Judith of Freeport, N.Y., was expect to arrive in Port Judith, R.I., sometime this afternoon.

To many New Englanders, the storm was nothing unusual.

"It's winter. It's what it's supposed to do," quipped Jane Ignos of Falmouth.

Outside the Masonic Temple on Concord Street in Framingham, parents Rick Gallagher and Ron Cubbin of Boy Scout Troop 210 stood by the back of a Ford pickup truck, sipping hot coffee as they sold Christmas wreaths.

"This is the day the boys were supposed to pick up their wreaths and deliver them to people's homes. They may be one or two days late this year," said Gallagher.

"All I know is, let it snow -- and bring on Miami," said Cubbin, who predicted a New England Patriots win today in snowy Foxborough against the visiting Miami Dolphins.

Meanwhile in North Andover, the North Parish, Unitarian Universalist Church annual Red Box Fair went on and cochairwoman Liz Hsu reported record attendance.

"We served something like 250 lunches, more than we expected and more than in past years," she said. "We even had to run out to the grocery story for more hot dogs. I guess the storm made people all the hungrier."

Megan Tench and Keith Reed of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Caroline Louise Cole, Ron DePasquale, Jared Stearns, and Brian Tarcy contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.

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