‘Historic’ storm set to slam Northeast; airlines cancel flights

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NORTHEAST, U.S. (CNN) — Go home. Stay there. Seriously.

That’s the message government officials across the Northeast offered residents Monday ahead of what could be a blizzard of historic proportions bearing down on the region.

“What you’re going to see in the (next) few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast and people cannot be caught off guard,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, warning that mass transit options will begin to dwindle as the night wears on.

Private cars will be banned from using city streets as of 11 p.m, he said.

The National Weather Service, which isn’t prone to exaggeration, is using terms like “life-threatening” and “historic” to describe the weather system taking aim at the Northeast, with the worst expected to hit Monday night into Tuesday.

“This is going to be a lot of snow, no matter how you add it up, so we are going to be challenged,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, called out the National Guard and said he may order everyone to stay put later Monday night, as governors in Connecticut and Massachusetts had already done.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency starting at 6 p.m. ET Monday. Cars left parked on snow emergency routes will be towed and owners ticketed, he said.

The first big storm of the year may drop up to 3 feet of snow on Boston and New York before it ends Tuesday, with freezing rain and strong wind gusts possibly reaching 55 to 65 mph. Blizzard and winter storm warnings have been issued from Maryland through Maine and into Canada. Up to 58 million people could be put into the deep freeze.

“I want everyone to understand that we are facing — most likely — one of the largest snowstorms in the history of this city,” de Blasio said.

That’s saying something. In 2006, 26.9 inches of snow fell, topping the 25.8-inches of snow that fell in December 1947.

Spinning your wheels

While the worst of the weather isn’t expected to hit until late Monday into Tuesday, according to CNN forecasters, thousands of flights already have been canceled for Monday and Tuesday, Flightaware.com said.

Between 50% and 70% of flights have already been canceled Monday at New York area airports, with even more likely Tuesday, said Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

American Airlines said it would suspend operations in Philadelphia, Boston and New York late Monday afternoon.

“We plan to resume operations as soon as it is safe to do so,” airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said.

United Airlines has already canceled all Tuesday flights at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK, as well as Boston and Philadelphia, company spokeswoman Mary Ryan said.

Delta has canceled more than 1,600 flights on Monday and Tuesday. There are no operations planned at Boston’s Logan International Airport on Tuesday and “very limited flying at LaGuardia and JFK,” spokesman Morgan Durrant said. Some cancellations may also be necessary Wednesday morning, he said.

The major U.S. airlines are offering fee-free rebooking of flights to and from the Northeast on Monday and Tuesday.

Amtrak plans to operate a normal Monday schedule but may re-evaluate later in the day.

Stocking up before the storm

The storm will come in waves, with the New York, Boston and Philadelphia areas seeing light snow Monday morning and heavier snow in the afternoon, CNN meteorologists say.

The really heavy snow will begin Monday night and continue through Tuesday. Some areas will still be getting snow Wednesday.

Officials across the Northeast warned residents to stock up for the storm ahead of time.

And they did.

While shoppers lined up in supermarkets, Dorot, a nonprofit in New York, collected hundreds of bags of food and water supplies for homebound seniors, WCBS reported.

“I think I’ll use some of this, especially the soup,” said Norma Amigo, 93, of the Upper West Side. “I will not go out if I think it’s slippery out, because I fell two weeks ago.”

Christine Carew, a sales associate at Charles Street Supply in Boston, said customers have been coming into the hardware store since it opened Sunday to grab sleds, shovels, ice melt and snow brushes.

When it comes to getting ready for a massive snowfall, she said, Boston residents know what to do.

“We’re more prepared for it,” she said. “We know it’s going to happen.”

Fleets of plows and tons of salt

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said his force was well-prepared with a fleet of vehicles equipped with tire chains and more large SUVs capable of traversing snowy streets.

New York state has at least 1,806 plows and more than 126,000 tons of salt to spray onto roads across the region.

The National Guard also was positioning six dozen personnel and 20 vehicles throughout the state Monday morning.

In Boston, New England Patriots fans saw their beloved football team off to the Super Bowl at a Monday morning celebration that wrapped up before the storm worsened.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said there was no doubt the city would be slammed, so a major effort now is making sure that people are safe. That includes checking on elderly residents and working to get homeless people off the streets and into shelters, he told CNN’s “New Day.”

The city has 700 pieces of snow-moving equipment and 35,000 tons of salt ready, he said.

“We have all the things we need to clean the city,” Walsh said. “It’s really just being prepared heading into the storm.”

Hunkering down

On Plum Island, Massachusetts, Bob Connors said he’ll try to ride out the storm but will move to higher ground if things get dicey, according to CNN affiliate WHDH. A 2013 storm destroyed homes on the island.

“When you’re living on the edge of paradise like we are now, you give Mother Nature a lot of respect when we need to,” said Connors.

Visibility will be a major problem, said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones.

“This is not one of those storms you want to go out in while it’s happening,” Jones said. “You want to wait for the winds to die down … before you go to the store.”

Tuesday is shaping up to be a day when the reality of the weather sets in.

One of the inevitable aftereffects of snow — flooding — will quickly become a problem.

There could be coastal flooding in Massachusetts starting early Tuesday, with pockets of major flooding on east-facing coastlines, the state emergency agency said.

“Plan to work from home is the best advice for Tuesday,” Jones said.

CNN’s Sara Ganim, Joe Sutton, Dana Ford, Aaron Cooper and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

By Ralph Ellis, Michael Pearson and Ashley Fantz