After a day of pelting wet snow, five states - New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island - had declared states of emergency, and Massachusetts had banned vehicles from every road in the state. More than 500,000 homes and businesses were without power Saturday morning. Major highways like Interstate 93 were almost completely abandoned; downtown Boston, in blizzard conditions, was a ghost town lost in a swirl of howling winds and snow. Parked cars lost their shape and resembled scoops of ice cream.
The storm moved with full force into New England Saturday morning, with record-breaking amounts of snow a possibility. Forecasters said that the storm would continue through Saturday afternoon and that winds could reach 75 mph, leaving behind a fresh white blanket perhaps 3 feet thick.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told people to stay home and warned them not to "panic buy" gasoline because the supply was plentiful. But the memory of Hurricane Sandy in October was still so raw that many across the region went on buying sprees anyway, emptying store shelves and filling extra containers of gasoline in addition to their car tanks.
"I don't think it's going to be as bad as they're saying, but I said that with Sandy too," said Lavel Samuels, 42, as she filled her tank at a gas station in Queens. "I'm filling up based on my experience with Sandy, in case there's no gas on Sunday or Monday."
But New England was bearing the brunt of the storm as heavy snows caused downed power lines throughout the region. By Saturday, 300,000 power failures were reported in Massachusetts, and more than 170,000 were reported in Rhode Island.
Some, though, welcomed the storm, particularly skiers who have bemoaned almost two seasons of barren slopes.
"These aren't flakes falling from the sky, these are dollar bills," said Ed Carrier as he sat in a coffee shop in Portsmouth, N.H., and envisioned the boon for winter sports.
Staff members at the Thirsty Moose Taphouse nearby said they were determined to stay open through the storm until their regular closing time at 1 a.m. (except in the case of a power failure), and even offered storm-related drink specials: $3 porters and stouts, as long as it was snowing.
"It's just a little bit of snow," said the hostess, Kim Lovely. "Mother Nature's just brushing out her dandruff."
But in most cities and towns, Friday was largely a day of preparing for the worst. With hurricane-force winds, the National Weather Service expects flooding along the Atlantic Coast that could affect up to 8 million people.
By Saturday morning, thousands of power failures had been reported across Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and utility officials, beleaguered after poor performances in previous storms, were girding for more extensive disruptions in service: Predicted winds of up to 75 mph would probably topple trees and take down more power lines, officials said. Marcy Reed, president of National Grid, said failures could last several days because repairs would not begin until the storm ended and would require reaching power lines buried under mounds of snow.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick took the unusual step of ordering all vehicles off all roads, not just state roads, by 4 p.m. Friday, well before the brunt of the storm had hit. Violators could face up to a year in prison and a fine, although exceptions were made for emergency workers, members of the news media and anyone with a snowplow.
"Two or three feet of snow is a profoundly different kind of storm than we have dealt with," the governor said from the state's emergency bunker in Framingham. Officials recalled only one previous such traffic ban, in the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1978, when more than 27 inches of snow paralyzed the region, forcing people to abandon their cars in the middle of roadways.
Maine declared a partial emergency, allowing it to suspend federal transportation rules, extend worker hours and bring in crews from Canada to assist with storm damage repair.
Thousands of flights were grounded on Friday and thousands more were expected to be suspended through the weekend.
Boston's transit system, including subway, buses and commuter rail lines, suspended service at 3:30, allowing first-shift workers to get home and second-shift workers to get to work. The city inaugurated its SnowOps Viewer, an online portal that allowed viewers to see where all snowplows were in real time.
In New York City, transit officials announced increased bus and train service in the afternoon to help commuters beat the worst of the storm. But New Jersey Transit suspended most of its commuter train and bus service by 8 p.m. Amtrak suspended northbound service out of Pennsylvania Station in New York and southbound service out of Boston. Schools throughout New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island were shut or sent students home early.
New York was battered by a sloshy mix of rain, snow and sleet that slowly changed over to all snow.
"From then things go downhill pretty quickly," said Tim Morrin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service based on Long Island, adding that the winds would pick up, and snow would fall more heavily.
By Saturday, the total snowfall in New York City was expected to be between 10 and 14 inches. On Long Island, the snow totals were expected to range from 14 to 18 inches, with the highest amounts at the east end.
In New London, Conn., forecasters said there would most likely be more than 24 inches of snow and even more in Boston, which could break modern records by topping 28 inches.
Jerome Hauer, the New York state commissioner of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said that coastal areas of Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island could experience flooding and that residents should be prepared to seek alternative shelter. While the storm surge was expected to be only 3 to 5 feet - well below the 14-foot surge that the hurricane delivered in the fall - he said large waves could bring water inland.
"If you see flooding, have plans for somewhere to go," Hauer said.
For many in New York and New Jersey, the memory of the gas shortages and prolonged power failures that followed Hurricane Sandy are still vivid, and they were taking no chances.
At Brewer's Hardware in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Anthony Lividini, the manager, said he was selling far more blizzard and power supplies, including generators, than he had in the past.
"People are getting nervous and coming out early because after Sandy they were unable to get supplies," he said.
Some stations were already reporting Friday that they had run out of fuel - some as early as noon.
At a Shell station in Queens, some drivers also filled red gas cans for generators they bought to get through the post-hurricane power failures.
At a Shell station in Jericho, N.Y., Andy Harris, the station owner, said that he had sold more than 12,000 gallons of gas in the past 24 hours - more than double his usual sales.
"We're seeing tremendous panic buying because Superstorm Sandy is on everybody's minds," he said.
(Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora, Joseph Berger, Winnie Hu, Nate Schweber, Jess Bidgood, Christine Hauser, Gerry Mullany and Andy Newman)
© 2013, The New York Times News Service