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State girds for a 2d winter punch

Snow could snarl morning commute

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By David Abel and John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / January 12, 2011

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Facing the season’s second major storm, state officials stockpiled salt and sand and prepared thousands of pieces of equipment yesterday, while communities statewide announced plans to close schools and cancel services.

Businesses and airlines also scrambled to shut down, as some parts of Massachusetts expected as much as 24 inches of snow, according to the governor’s office. The nor’easter was expected to dump a wet blanket on southern counties and a fluffier covering in the west, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

The weather service said the storm could produce blizzard conditions, especially in the early morning.

“We’re expecting this is going to have a huge impact on the morning commute,’’ said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. “We want to keep as many people off the roads as possible. If people have to travel, they should use public transportation.’’

At the State House last night, Governor Deval Patrick said state offices would be closed today and directed all nonemergency state employees to stay home, encouraging private employers to take similar measures.

“If you stay indoors throughout the worst of the storm, you give the people running the plows and the sanders and the rest of it their best chance to clear the roads, and you also keep yourself safe,’’ Patrick said.

Judge said the Emergency Management Agency planned to activate its operations center at 3 a.m. today and would have a number of state officials present throughout the storm.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation had 4,500 plows, spreaders, and other equipment positioned to clear 14,000 miles of roads, ramps, and other byways. They had also stockpiled 290,000 tons of salt, 300,000 gallons of liquid calcium, and 2,000 tons of sand to put down throughout the morning.

Patrick said that while the back-to-back major storms have presented a challenge for snow removal budgets, the work would get done nonetheless.

“The first thing is to do the job and then we’ll deal with the costs,’’ he said, adding that people should root for a mild end to the winter.

At Logan International Airport, many airlines yesterday told airport officials they were canceling their flights for the day, while others said they would consider resuming flights in the afternoon, said Phil Orlandella, an airport spokesman.

He said Logan has 56 pieces of heavy equipment, which officials plan to use to keep one runway open in the morning and open a second runway later in the day.

“We plan to stay open as long as we can, as long as we think it’s safe,’’ he said.

But open runways don’t necessarily mean airlines will choose to fly. Today, “we’ll most likely be a ghost town,’’ he said. He urged travelers to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

Patrick said Worcester Regional Airport is expected to be closed today.

Officials at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended service on the Mattapan Line, but they planned to keep as many trains and buses in service as possible. They expected to run trains through the night to keep the rails clear of snow and ice but warned that bus service could be canceled on some routes.

“Our goal will be to maintain regular weekday levels of service,’’ said Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, adding that people should check Mbta.com for updates.

The snow was expected to begin falling shortly after midnight, as temperatures plunged into the teens throughout the state. Winds today are expected to gust from 20 to 35 miles per hour in Boston and as much as 50 miles per hour in eastern Plymouth County.

The National Weather Service predicted the hardest-hit areas would be in the central and south central portions of the state, especially near Worcester, which could receive more than 17 inches. Most other areas, including Boston, are expected to receive more than a foot.

Forecasters said the southern portion of the state should receive less snow but it would be wetter and heavier, making the region more likely to have downed power lines. The outer Cape and islands are expected to receive only about 2 inches of snow and coastal areas should be spared any storm surge as tides are low.

State Police said they plan to keep scores of troopers who work the late-night shift on through the morning and activated additional units to supplement regular patrols. They also positioned special track vehicles around the state to assist in evacuating anyone in need of help in places where regular vehicles cannot reach.

“If people do have to drive, we urge them to go slowly and to leave adequate space at least three vehicle lengths between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them,’’ said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman. “We also remind citizens to check on elderly neighbors or others who may need help, especially in cases of power outages.’’

Local officials throughout the state said they were prepared for the storm. In Boston, the city has more than 500 plows and other snow removal equipment and 25,000 tons of salt scattered citywide. Mayor Thomas M. Menino also directed nonessential city employees to stay home and issued a “snow emergency’’ and parking ban that took effect at 9 last night.

City officials said homeless shelters would remain open throughout the day. All trash collection this week will be delayed by one day, through Saturday. Boston Public Schools are closed.

In Scituate, where at least 400 homes suffered damage from coastal flooding during the last snowstorm in late December, city officials said they do not expect to be hit as hard. “The tide is going to be lower, so we don’t expect the sea action to be as intense,’’ Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said.

Many business leaders said they were watching the weather closely to determine whether to stay open. Henry Kanner, owner of Natick Outdoor Store, a family-run business in downtown Natick that sells everything from camping equipment to lacrosse sticks, said his store wouldn’t close no matter how bad the weather gets. “We have never closed in our 60 years of business,’’ said Kanner, adding that his employees find a way to get to work. “We often see parents who at the last minute need boots for their kids, or a new sled.’’

Andrew Mastrangelo, a spokesman for Dunkin’ Brands, said his company expects employees to use their judgment about whether it’s safe to come in. “We’ve asked all our employees to check our weather hotline for a delayed opening or cancellation,’’ he said.

The forecast for tomorrow and Friday is for cold but sunny weather.

Globe staff writers Martin Finucane and Megan Woolhouse and Globe correspondents Jessica Bartlett and Nicholas Goss contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com and John Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com.