BOSTON (AP) - A blizzard of potentially historic proportions threatened to strike the Northeast with a vengeance on Friday, with up to 0.6m of snow forecast along the densely populated corridor from the New York City area to Boston and beyond.
Halfway through what was looking like a merciful winter, people stocked up on food and other storm supplies, and road crews along the East Coast readied salt and sand ahead of what forecasters warned could be one for the record books.
Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, called off school on Friday, and airlines canceled more than 500 flights and counting, with the disruptions certain to ripple across the United States (US).
"Everybody's going to get plastered with snow," said Massachusetts-based National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham.
The snow is expected to start on Friday morning, with the heaviest amounts falling at night and into Saturday. Wind gusts could reach 105kph. Widespread power failures were feared, along with flooding in coastal areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in October.
New York City was expecting up to 355mm of snow. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby.
"We hope forecasts are exaggerating the amount of snow, but you never can tell," he said.
Blizzard warnings were posted for parts of New Jersey and New York's Long Island, as well as portions of the New England region, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The warnings extended into New Hampshire and Maine.
In New England, it could prove to be among the top 10 snowstorms in history, and perhaps even break Boston's record of 700mm, set in 2003, forecasters said. The storm is arriving just after the 35th anniversary of the blizzard of 1978, which paralysed New England with more than 0.6m of snow and hurricane-force winds from Feb 5 to 7.
The last major snowfall in southern New England was well over a year ago - the Halloween storm of 2011.
In New Hampshire, Dartmouth College student Evan Diamond and other members of the ski team were getting ready for races at the Ivy League school's winter carnival.
"We're pretty excited about it because this has been an unusual winter for us," he said. "We've been going back and forth between having really solid cold snaps and then the rain washing everything away."