Gov. Deval Patrick asked non-essential state employees to stay home and many school systems canceled classes or announced early dismissals Friday, as a major winter storm approached a region still reeling from a devastating ice storm a week ago.
The National Weather Service posted a winter storm warning and predicted snow could fall at a rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour in the afternoon, creating poor visibility and hazardous travel conditions. Forecasters expected 8 to 12 inches of snow to be on the ground by the time the storm winded down late in the evening.
Western Massachusetts and Connecticut reported heavy snow as the the storm rapidly spreaded eastward. The snowstorm is expected to reach southern New Hampshire, Rhode Island and the rest of Massachusetts later this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
In a statement early Friday, Patrick ordered non-emergency state employees who work in the executive branch not to report to work. The governor also urged private sector employees to take similar actions, and said people who do go to work should use public transportation if possible.
Chief Justice for Administration & Management Robert Mulligan announced that courthouses and offices in the four western counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire closed early Friday. Courthouses and offices in all other counties will close by 2:00 pm.
Officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were hoping to avoid any repeat of Dec. 13, 2007, when a similar storm hit in the afternoon, paralyzing traffic jams and leaving some children trapped in school buses for up to eight hours.
"I would be very surprised and disappointed if we see something similar," Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Judge said Friday.
"The bad experiences that people had last year are still fresh in their minds and I think the response this year will be a little bit better," he said, adding that discussions with local emergency management officials had been ongoing for several days.
The city of Boston said a snow emergency and parking ban would go into effect at 9 a.m., and that 600 pieces of snow removal equipment and 35,000 tons of salt would be available to deal with the storm.
"The city is well prepared to handle the first snow storm of the year," Mayor Thomas Menino said.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation also issued a parking ban on all roadways under its control in greater Boston.
Air travel delays were expected and the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan International Airport, was urging travelers to call their airlines prior to leaving for the airport.
The storm had the potential to complicate efforts to restore power to several thousand electric customers still without power one week after an ice storm that toppled trees and utility lines. Judge said about 10,000 customers in Massachusetts were waiting for power to be restored, down from a peak of 350,000 in the immediate aftermath of the storm. A dozen emergency shelters remained open around the state.
The National Weather Service said the snow was expected to begin in western Massachusetts and Connecticut around 10 a.m. and over the entire region by early afternoon. In addition to the storm warning, a high wind watch was posted for Cape Cod and a gale warning was to go in effect at noon for coastal waters.
More snow was in the forecast for Sunday.
This program aired on December 19, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.