BOSTON -- Last-minute shoppers cleared grocery shelves and raided snowblower dealers Friday along the East Coast ahead of a storm that could drop 2 feet or more of fast-falling snow on some of the nation's biggest metro areas, including Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Officials from Virginia to Massachusetts declared states of emergency, imposed parking bans and warned of hazardous travel in advance of wet, heavy snow that could fall as fast as 5 inches per hour. Parts of 10 states were under blizzard warnings.
The storm threatened whiteout conditions, high winds and coastal flooding, followed by intense cold that could leave many people shivering amid power outages. Airlines canceled thousands of flights in advance.
Merrick McCormack was among hundreds who packed a Shaw’s Supermarket in Warwick, Rhode Island, with the entire state under a blizzard warning and officials mobilizing more than 500 snowplows.
“I don’t fuss with storms. I know in a couple of days, we’re going to be free and clear. No need to panic,” the 51-year-old Cranston resident said, flashing some New England stoicism as he unloaded his groceries.
Regional supermarket giant Stop & Shop pleaded with customers to practice restraint, warning that staffing and supply woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic will mean barer shelves and longer checkout lines.
“We ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” the grocery chain said in a statement.
The Boston area, which was under a blizzard warning, could get buried under 18 to 24 inches (45 to 61 centimeters) of snow, with some isolated spots of eastern Massachusetts seeing as much as 30 inches (76), according to the National Weather Service.
Coastal New Jersey was forecast to get as much as 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow and eastern Long Island up to 17 inches (43). Philadelphia, New York City, and parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia could get 10 (25) or more.
Washington was forecast to be spared the worst of the snowfall, with only 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 8 centimeters).
Airlines canceled about 1,300 U.S. flights Friday and more than 3,100 on Saturday. More than 90% of Saturday schedules at Boston's Logan Airport and New York’s LaGuardia were scrubbed, according to FlightAware.
Delta Air Lines said it would suspend flights at the three major New York City-area airports and at Logan on Saturday, with the hope of resuming service Sunday afternoon.
Amtrak canceled or limited weekend train service along its busy corridor from Washington to Boston.
Snow began falling Friday evening in parts of Appalachia and was sweeping northward from there and the Carolinas.
The system was expected to intensify into a nor’easter — a coastal storm that churns up the East Coast — and blow into New England early Saturday with wind gusts as high as 70 mph (113 kph).
The refrain from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state executives was: “Just stay off the roads.”
Massachusetts banned heavy trucks from interstate highways for most of Saturday, and the Boston area's transit agency said many buses would run only on snow routes.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan mobilized the National Guard. In Virginia, where a blizzard this month stranded hundreds of motorists for hours on Interstate 95, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said officials had begun positioning resources in anticipation of toppled trees, power outages and tidal flooding.
About 1,800 snowplows were ready in New York City, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said, while in New England, some officials fretted about a shortage of drivers.
Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said Friday his staffing is down about 30% this weekend because of COVID-19 and other issues.
The state expects to have more than 600 plow and sanding trucks out in addition to contractors, but with snow expected to fall so fast, it might not be enough, he said.
“It depends on the length of the storm,” Giulietti said. “Because these people have to keep circling and going back out on the routes.”
The worst of the storm was expected to blow by Sunday morning into Canada, where several provinces were under storm warnings.
Shoppers — some of them looking forward to hibernating — crammed grocery stores for bread, eggs, milk and other staples.
Marc Rudkowski — a 28-year-old machine learning engineer — stocked up at the Star Market in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on French bread and wine, as well as balloons and toys for his dog, who turned 1 on Friday.
“He’s going to love it. He’s a snow dog,” Rudkowski said.
In Maine, which was also under a blizzard warning, Rick Tucker kept busy — and cheerful — as customers bought generators, snowblowers, shovels, ice melt and lanterns at Maine Hardware in Portland.
“It sounds like it’s going to be a big one,” said Tucker, the store president. “We haven’t had one of those for a while. It’s going to be fun.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela in New York; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Wayne Parry in Point Pleasant, New Jersey; Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; Steve LeBlanc in Cambridge, Massachusetts; William J. Kole in Warwick, Rhode Island; David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; and airlines writer David Koenig.