BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Wednesday to combat the heavy, wind-blown snow that knocked out power to tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents and wreaked havoc on transportation.
At 4:00 p.m., as the storm's tenacity finally began to abate, about 24,000 homes were still without power — mostly in southeastern Massachusetts — down from a high of 100,000 outages. Marshfield, Plymouth, Brockton and Bridgewater appeared to be hit hardest.
"Our biggest issue is going to remain the power outages," said Peter Judge, of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "Heavy snow in eastern Massachusetts plus very strong winds — that's a recipe for power outages and we're seeing them now."
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National Grid spokesman David Graves said crews could be working into early Thursday to restore power to all residents.
"But this is nothing like the devastation that we suffered in '08," he said, "where we had thousands of trees down, thousands of poles down, thousands of feet of wire down that had to be replaced."
Brookline, Brockton, East Bridgewater and West Bridgewater were among towns that opened up shelters for those without power.
The National Weather Service predicted up to 15 inches of snow for the Boston area — which is under a blizzard warning until 8 p.m. — and up to 2 feet in central and northern Massachusetts. Patrick said western Massachusetts could see up to 30 inches of snow. Accumulations are expected to be less on the South Shore and Cape Cod and the islands.
The snow, mixed with thunder storms, started in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday. With snow rates at one point reaching 2 inches per hour, some communities had 10 inches of snow by the start of the workday.
The powerful storm thinned the ranks of commuters as it wreaked havoc on the roadways. State police said visibility early Wednesday was only about 100 feet on major roads as the speed limit on the Mass Pike was lowered to 40 miles per hour.
Patrick called the roadways "slow-going" and said there have been no serious injuries to report.
Highway Administrator Luisa Paiewonsky urged people to stay off the highways for another few hours while the plowers continue to clear them off.
"And the reason is it's really hard to get a safe speed on the roadways in this condition. If you go too slowly you're going to get stuck in snow or on a ramp and if you go too fast you're going to spin out," she said. "There isn't really a good way to get from point A to point B on the highways."
The storm also delayed or suspended public transportation and canceled thousands of flights.
The Amtrak rail running between Boston and New York was suspended because a tree fell on a power line near Sharon. The MBTA commuter line, Red, Orange and Green Lines (D and E) were also diverted and/or interrupted at some point Wednesday.
"All things considered, (it's) run smoothly," said MBTA General Manager Richard Davey. "We had a few buses this morning stuck. We have several tow trucks out there to help folks, but so far so good. Thank goodness no accidents to report."
Logan was open but every flight in and out of Boston was delayed Wednesday.
"We are open for service as we try to plan to keep the airport open as long as possible and as long as it's safe," said Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella.
The storm tapered off in the afternoon and will last until after sunset.
"I think once we get past lunchtime, we'll start to wind it down a little bit," said WCVB-TV meteorologist Mike Wankum. "But there's still going to be snow falling in the afternoon — snow might not get shoveled until this evening.
"[A]t that point, I would suggest you get out there and shovel it because this is such heavy, wet stuff that once we go below freezing, which we will tonight, into the 20s, this stuff will freeze into something resembling concrete by morning."
Gov. Deval Patrick told all non-essential workers to stay home Wednesday, and asked the private sector to do the same.
"You know, in the last storm, you noticed that people really did stay off the roads and it really did make a difference in terms of the ability of the plows and sanders to do what they need to do, and we just need that cooperation again," he said.
While hundreds of schools and events were canceled and the state's courts closed for the day, many braved the weather to go to work — or ventured out for other essentials.
"I saw the lights on in here, coming in through Whitman, and I was like, 'Yay, we're going to have coffee!'" said Donna Berseni from a very busy Dunkin' Donuts in Whitman.
This report was compiled with material from the WBUR Newsroom and the Associated Press.