Monster blizzard roars into Northeast

New York (CNN) — A monster blizzard left tens of thousands of people in the dark — and in the cold — Friday night, all thanks to a storm that’s already delivered whipping winds and over a foot of snow in some parts, with prospects of even double that by the time it’s done.

The storm — actually the convergence of two powerful systems — began in earnest Friday morning in parts of New York state and is expected to continue well into Saturday in Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts and Maine.

“The wind is just pounding,” CNN iReporter Jordana Fleischut said from Nantucket, off Massachusetts’ southern coast. “It’s currently moving the Jeep that we’re in — that’s how powerful it is.”

Tens of millions of people were in the blizzard’s path, and many more saw their hopes of getting anywhere squashed as thousands of flight were canceled affecting some 60 airports or government officials’ orders that drivers stay off the road. Amtrak also nixed several of its scheduled runs, citing the weather.

That helped transform several communities around New England into ghost towns, as streets that typically would be choked with traffic were quiet, except for whistling winds; and empty, except for a blanket of thick, sticky snow. Several iReporters sent in photos and video from Boston, for instance, that showed sheets of white on the ground — except when whipping winds made for near whiteout conditions on camera — and little movement on the streets.

“Boston is kind of eerie at the moment,” said Chris Moran, a veteran snowplow driver doing his best to keep the roads clear. “People are off the streets, and it looks like it could be 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Heavy bands dumped, at times, up to 3 inches of snow an hour in parts of the Northeast, a deluge that had dumped more than a foot of snow already by 8:30 p.m. in several Connecticut and Rhode Island communities. And that could just be the start: Forecasters have said as much as 30 inches could fall in parts of Massachusetts by the time the storm finally passes.

Strong winds made this storm especially biting. By Friday evening, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts around 60 mph from Nantucket to Boston’s Castle Island — not to mention a 71-mph gust in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod.

Such strong winds could whip up mighty storm surges on Friday night and, again, Saturday morning. The emergency management agency in Marshfield, a seaside Massachusetts town, noted there may be a storm surge of between two to three feet, forecasting a “serious event with moderate to major impact” around 10 a.m. Saturday.

For many more people, the storm’s impact will be in the form of widespread power outages. By 8:45 p.m. Friday, more than 130,000 customers — most in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — were without electricity, a number that was expected to grow as the night wore on.

For some, it all evoked memories of the “Blizzard of ’78” and the “Presidents Day Storm of 2003″ — two of dozens of winter storms in Massachusetts that Moran has been out on the streets.

The Framingham resident bundled up to brave the bitter cold and clear snow off the roads. But with a storm this powerful, it sometimes seems like a losing battle.

“I just finished plowing a 40-car parking lot,” said Moran. “But if you were to look at it now, you never would have guessed. It’s completely covered.”

Alarms raised, events canceled ahead of the storm

Authorities have been sounding the alarm about the coming storm for days, urging people to stock up and stay off the roads. The worries were especially pronounced in places slammed by Sandy.

That late October storm tore through Nick Camerada’s Staten Island home, leaving him personally “destroyed” and cognizant that there may be more hits coming.

“You can’t mess with Mother Nature,” an emotional Camerada said.

Lines of customers snaked around storefronts as many braced for the worst.

When Reading, Massachusetts, resident Elizabeth Frazier arrived at a grocery store late Thursday night, shoppers were already buying up the store.

“It’s a zoo in there,” she said. “There’s nothing left on the shelves,” she told CNN affiliate WHDH.

Governors across New England and New York have declared states of emergency, and all cars and trucks — except emergency vehicles — must now be off Massachusetts and Connecticut roadways. A similar ban in Rhode Island took effect at 5 p.m.

Violating that ban could incur a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

By Friday night, the storm had already led to hundreds of cancellations of public school classes to sporting events. The storm even prompted the cancellation of ACT tests, for would-be college students, around the Northeast.

Train traffic also ground to a halt in places, in addition to air and road travel. Amtrak canceled many trips in the Northeast corridor. Some 6,000 Massachusetts National Guard members were put on storm duty as residents across the region stocked up on essential supplies.

Utility companies tried to get a head start on the storm, by having additional crews ready to respond to outages caused by downed power lines.

The fear is that, as happened after Sandy, such outages could persist for days. Still, for all the alarms being raised, the mayor of Boston — which forecasters expected would be the city hardest hit by the storm — said he expected residents of his community and others to hunker down and weather the storm.

Said Mayor Thomas Menino, “We are hardy New Englanders.”

CNN’s David Ariosto, Greg Botelho, Mary Snow, Steve Almasy, Larry Shaughnessy and Marina Carver contributed to this report.

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