For more on the storm, see our blog coverage here.
BOSTON — Massachusetts residents were told by Gov. Deval Patrick to stay off the roads or face a penalty as a huge storm hit the state Friday, bringing with it up to 3 feet of snow, wind gusts of up to 60 mph, coastal flooding and hundreds of thousands of power outages.
With much of eastern Massachusetts under a blizzard warning until 1 p.m. Saturday, Patrick, in a midday Friday news conference, declared a state of emergency and announced that he’s signed an executive order banning vehicle traffic statewide as of 4 p.m. Friday.
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Patrick said as the storm gains strength it will bring “extremely dangerous conditions” with bands of snow dropping up to 2 to 3 inches per hour at the height of the blizzard, prompting whiteout conditions.
The ban has exceptions for public safety, utility and essential health care workers; the media; “travel necessary to maintain and deliver critical private sector services” and “travel to support business operations that provide critical services to the public.” It will be in effect until further notice.
Patrick said drivers seen on roadways after 4 p.m. could face a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison or a $500 fine, but he conceded such penalties are unlikely.
“The point is not to figure out how to come down hard on people, it’s to emphasize how critical it is that non-essential travel on the road cease during this storm and during the immediate aftermath,” he said.
Officials said it’s the first time the state has banned traffic on roads since the Blizzard of ’78.
Earlier Friday, state Highway Administrator Frank DePaola referenced the famed storm. “We want to avoid the Blizzard of ’78 condition where people were stuck on roadways, abandoned their vehicles, which then prevented snow and ice clearing operations,” he said.
Light snow began falling just before 10 a.m. in Boston; the worst conditions are predicted for around 10 p.m. Friday. The forecast calls for heavy, drifting snow with little or no visibility.
The MBTA suspended all service — subways, commuter trains, buses — at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Logan International Airport said it would try to stay open during the storm but airlines canceled many flights through Saturday.
Amtrak also suspended all Northeast Corridor trains on Friday afternoon.
In Boston, a snow emergency and parking ban went into effect at noon on Friday.
A flood warning is in effect until Saturday noon for the state’s east-facing coastline. The National Weather Service warned of moderate to major coastal flooding at high tide Saturday morning, with large waves and a 2- to 3-foot storm surge that could damage shorefront homes, cause beach erosion, and make some coastal roads temporarily impassable.
Marshfield, 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.
Scituate Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said a shelter was set up at the high school.
“We’ve advised the residents in the areas most prone to coastal flooding to seek alternate shelter before the storm and definitely before the high tides, and we’re particularly emphasizing that to residents in the northern part of Humarock,” she said.
The Red Cross said it was getting shelters ready across the state; three were opened on Cape Cod, one was opened on Martha’s Vineyard, and a dozen are on standby.
Stores throughout the state were packed Friday with people buying food, shovels, batteries and other storm supplies.
“I came to get some broccoli and vegetables and stuff like that,” said Boston’s Larry Jones, at the South Bay Stop & Shop, “but there’s nothing here. It’s pretty crazy.”
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.
“We’ve categorized it as a Level 5 storm, which is the highest category we have,” said National Grid President Marcy Reed. “That means we do expect outages which could be greater than three days.”
“The potential of widespread power outages is probably our biggest issue, simply because we’re putting people in harm’s way relative to the lack of heat,” said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
The storm comes almost 35 years to the day after the Blizzard of ’78. 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.
With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom