A blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast, including New York and Boston, and the National Weather Service said the massive storm would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding starting Monday and through Tuesday.
"This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Sunday.
De Blasio held up a piece of paper showing the city's top 10 snowstorms and said this one could land at the top of a list that goes back to 1872, including the 26.9 inches that fell in 2006. "Don't underestimate this storm. Prepare for the worst," he said as he urged residents to plan to leave work early Monday.
Boston is expected to get 18 to 24 inches of snow, with up to 3 feet west of the city, and Philadelphia could see 14 to 18 inches, the weather service said.
"We do anticipate very heavy snowfall totals," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the weather service in College Park, Maryland. "In addition to heavy snow, with blizzard warnings, there's a big threat of high, damaging winds, and that will be increasing Monday into Tuesday. A lot of blowing, drifting and such."
Wind gusts of 75 mph or more are possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph further inland, Oravec said.
Airlines prepared to shut down operations along the East Coast, leading to the expected cancellation of more than 1,700 flights scheduled for Monday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.
A weekend storm that had brought snow and slush to the Northeast — the first real snow of the season for many areas — was just a warm-up.
"Looks like our luck is about to run out," said John Paulsen as he gassed up his SUV in New Jersey. "I can't complain too much since we've had a pretty mild winter, but I don't know if I'm ready for a foot or so of snow all at once."
The storm system driving out of the Midwest brought several inches of snow to Ohio on Sunday and was expected to ultimately spread from the nation's capital to Maine for a "crippling and potentially historic blizzard," the National Weather Service said.
The Washington area expected only a coating or a bit more, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm plods its way north.
At New York's Penn Station, Cicero Goncalves was waiting for a train to Vermont, where he's going snowboarding, because he expected the flight he had hoped to take would be cancelled.
But the 34-year-old flight attendant from Queens — who was dressed in a full-length bear costume — counted himself and his travel partner as lucky. "We'll get there before it snows, and we're coming back when the storm is over, on Thursday," he said.
Preparations large and small were in effect elsewhere in New York. A Manhattan Home Depot store sold about twice as many shovels over the weekend as it normally does, and transit officials hoping to keep the subways running smoothly planned to use modified subway cars loaded with de-icing fluid to spray the third rail that powers trains.
Farther north, snow plow driver Al Laplant expected to be out clearing roads of Simsbury, Connecticut, this week, just as he has for more than two decades. But even for a plow driver, the snow is no cakewalk.
"It's kind of exhilarating," he said. "But at the same time, I've been doing it for 27 years, so I'm kind of tired of it myself."
The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots also expected to be out — as in out of town — by the time the storm arrives in Boston. The team plans to leave Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.
Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey; Deepti Hajela in New York; Albert Stumm in Philadelphia; and Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.
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