BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts residents were told to stay home and off the roads if possible as a huge storm approached the region Friday, bringing with it up to three feet of snow, wind gusts of up to 60 mph and significant coastal flooding.
Boston and much of eastern Massachusetts was under a blizzard warning until 1 p.m. Saturday. A flood warning was going into effect at 8 p.m. Friday until noon Saturday for the state's east-facing coastline.
The forecast of heavy, drifting snow with little or no visibility will make traffic extremely difficult and in many cases, impossible as the storm picks up in intensity. Power outages are also likely.
A steady, light snow began falling at midmorning in Boston, where a snow emergency and parking ban was set to take effect at noon.
Stores throughout the state were packed with people buying food, shovels, batteries and other storm supplies.
At a Stop & Shop supermarket in Whitman, bread, milk and bundles of firewood were nearly gone by 9:30 a.m. Friday. Yet some shoppers were still skeptical that the storm would be as huge as predicted.
"I just want to see if it's going to really happen," said Jessica Zinkevicz, 31, a certified nursing assistant from East Bridgewater who went to Stop & Shop to stock up on Diet Snapple, water and frozen vegetables.
"I'm just taking it as it comes," she said. "Once it starts coming down hard, then I might start panicking."
Gov. Deval Patrick, who scheduled a briefing for later Friday at the state's emergency management center in Framingham, implored residents to take the storm seriously and to make every effort to be off the roads by noon Friday. He ordered nonemergency state workers to stay home and called on private employers to follow the same advice.
"By all accounts we're expecting a serious weather event," Patrick said, urging residents to keep an eye on changing conditions. "Mother Nature is unpredictable and forecasts change and change quickly."
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority planned to shut down all service - including subways, commuter trains and buses - after 3:30 p.m. Commuters who use public transportation in the morning were being told to plan carefully so as not to get stranded after the T suspends operations. State transportation officials expect service to be up and running again by Monday morning.
Boston's Logan International Airport said it would try to stay open during the storm but airlines had already canceled many flights through Saturday.
Amtrak also planned to suspend all Northeast Corridor trains on Friday afternoon.
Predictions of 2 feet of snow or more could make the storm one of the biggest in recorded history, but an even greater concern than the snow could be the possibility of a damaging coastal storm surge.
The National Weather Service was warning of moderate to major coastal flooding at high tide on Saturday morning, with large waves a 2- to 3-foot storm surge that could damage shorefront homes, cause beach erosion and make some coastal roads temporarily impassable.
Revere, Scituate, Sandwich Harbor and the east coast of Nantucket were among the areas that could be vulnerable to major flooding, according to the weather service.
State Energy Secretary Rick Sullivan said officials have been in contact with all four of the state's utilities and each had filed an action plan with the state. Work to restore power won't start until the storm is over.
The storm comes almost 35 years to the day that the famed Blizzard of '78 hit the region. That storm, which claimed dozens of lives, left about 27 inches of snow in Boston and packed hurricane-force winds and flooding that caused extensive damage along the coast.