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‘Classic’ northeaster expected to batter region today

By Stewart Bishop and Shana Wickett
Globe Correspondents / February 10, 2010

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A major snowstorm is expected to batter the area today, closing down schools, causing snow emergencies in communities, and possibly making a nightmare of the evening commute.

The storm is expected to bring 6 to 9 inches of snow to the Boston area, but the heaviest snowfall is expected to hit the interior of Southeastern Massachusetts, where some areas will get over a foot, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Simpson.

A winter storm watch for this morning through late tonight has been issued for Suffolk County, Norfolk County, southern Worcester County, Southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape and Islands, Rhode Island, and northern Connecticut, according to the National Weather Service.

Dozens of school districts began announcing closures or early dismissals yesterday. Public schools in Boston, Revere, Fall River, Everett, Somerville, and Middleborough are among the districts closed today.

Low pressure moving up the North Carolina coast is expected to push the heavy snow into the Bay State starting sporadically this morning and ending late tonight.

Simpson said the bulk of the snow will hit between 2 and 6 p.m. “The evening commute could be a serious problem if it’s not staggered,’’ he said. “We’re looking at a classic nor’easter.’’

Simpson said he expects a barrage of heavy, wet snow. “You could definitely make snowballs out of it if you want to,’’ he said.

Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Thomas. M. Menino, said the mayor had been meeting with officials from the Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the School Committee, and other agencies to make sure everyone is on standby. Joyce said Menino strongly encouraged Boston workers to use public transportation today.

“The evening commute is expected to be difficult at best,’’ Joyce said.

Boston Public Schools spokesman Matthew F. Wilder said late last night that all schools will be closed today, and all extracurricular activities have been canceled.

Multiple cities declared snow emergencies and parking bans, including Boston, Brockton, and New Bedford.

“During the afternoon even, if you’ve got to go anywhere, give yourself plenty of time and take extra care,’’ National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham said, adding that the worst traveling conditions will be heading south and southeast on I-93, Route 24, and Route 3.

“If you’re leaving Boston heading to the South Shore or to Rhode Island, plan on it taking quite a while,’’ he said.

Peter Judge of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said the storm should be monitored closely because the amount and location of the snow will vary and could change.

“We recommend anyone who can utilize public transportation to do so,’’ Judge said. “And we’d also recommend anyone who can to telecommute or stay off the roads entirely.’’

Judge said his agency has been in close contact with the Department of Transportation, which will have its snow removal equipment out in full force.

“They will have the better part of 4,000 pieces of equipment ready to go tomorrow morning,’’ Judge said last night.

Logan Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said last night that airport officials would be meeting airline representatives this morning to discuss any changes in flight plans.

“Right now, it looks like there will be a lot of delays and cancellations up and down the East Coast,’’ Orlandella said.

Though blizzard conditions are not expected, wind gusts of 45 to 50 miles per hour will cause snow drifts and reduced visibility for drivers in coastal Plymouth County and the Cape and Islands.

Simpson said the storm should taper off by late evening, and fairer weather should return tomorrow.

Snowfall is down this year with 28.9 inches so far in the Boston area compared with 54.1 at the same time last year, the weather service said. The average accumulation for this time of year is 26 inches.

Officials were especially eager to showcase their preparedness for the onslaught of snow.

In December 2007, a snowstorm brought traffic in Boston to a halt resulting in long delays that enraged commuters.

Judge said this time around is different because there is more salt and chemical residue from earlier storms this season.