BOSTON -- A storm expected to bring more than a foot of snow, stiff winds and punishing cold pushed into the Northeast on Thursday, extending Christmas break for some students while posing the first test for New York City's new mayor and perhaps the last challenge for Boston's outgoing one.
Some schools in New England and New York state closed well ahead of the snow, while cities mobilized plows and salt spreaders, and state offices sent workers home early. Some major highways were ordered shut down overnight. U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights nationwide Thursday in advance of the storm.
The heavy weather began rolling in just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation's largest city and a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.
Mr. Menino announced a parking ban and said schools would be closed today in Boston, where as much as 14 inches of snow was expected. Boston's airport said it would not handle any flights after 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
"What a New Year's gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor," said Mr. Menino, whose successor, Martin J. Walsh, takes office Monday.
Mr. de Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticized his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his handling of a post-Christmas storm, said hundreds of plows and salt spreaders would be on the streets as soon as the snow began falling Thursday night. "We have to get it right, no question about it," he said. "We are focused like a laser on protecting this city and getting everyone ready. We have all hands on deck."
Snow began falling overnight Wednesday in parts of New England and New York state, but the brunt of the storm wasn't expected until late Thursday. Forecasters said temperatures would plummet, with some areas seeing highs just above zero and wind-chill readings of minus-10 and colder.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, coastal areas north and south of Boston and part of Maine as well as New York's Long Island, where 8 to 10 inches of snow could fall and winds could gust to 45 mph. Fourteen to 18 inches of snow were forecast, with as much as 2 feet in some areas along the Massachusetts coast.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday night that state offices that closed early Thursday would remain closed today. He said National Guard members and state police were on standby for any high-tide flooding overnight or today in vulnerable coastal areas, but no mandatory evacuations have been ordered.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three major highways, stretching from Long Island to Albany, to close overnight Thursday. He said the highways should reopen at 5 a.m. today.
Efforts were underway to get homeless people off New York City and Boston streets and into the safety of shelters Thursday evening.
As the storm approached, a worker at a suburban Philadelphia salt storage facility was killed Thursday afternoon when a 100-foot pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe. There was no immediate word on what may have caused the accident.
Interior southern New England and New York state could get as much as a foot of snow. New York City was expecting 8 inches, while Philadelphia could see 3 to 7. Amtrak plans to run trains on all of its Northeast lines on Friday but will operate on a modified schedule, said spokeswoman Christina Leeds.
As the storm pushed eastward on New Year's Day and Thursday, it dropped as much as 18 inches on suburban Chicago and as much as 10 inches on Michigan, prompting cancellation Wednesday of hundreds of flights at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Below-zero cold is expected across the region over the next few days.