HARRISBURG – A fast-moving storm expected to drop a foot of snow or more in the Northeast over the weekend moved into the region Saturday as road crews went on high alert and airlines began canceling flights.
Utilities braced for power outages, airports prepared for delays and local officials readied for slick roads while shoppers headed out to stores to tackle gift lists during a shorter-than-normal holiday shopping season.
The National Weather Service has said 6 to 12 inches of snow was expected in New England, with as much as 14 inches possible along the Maine coast. Areas north and west of New York City and central Pennsylvania could get 8 inches or more. About half a foot was forecast in parts of Ohio, where snow began falling overnight.
Hours before kickoff Saturday at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, accountant Kathy Porter hovered under layers of clothing in the stands, trying to keep warm amid low temperatures she doesn’t get much of back home in Charlotte, N.C.
“We’re just hoping for snow and not rain – I think we can handle the snow,” Porter said. “I think we’ll be OK. A little frozen but OK.”
Airlines have canceled about 940 flights because of the storm, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. Almost 350 flights into and out of Newark, N.J., have been canceled, and 172 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport have been called off. ExpressJet and United have canceled the most flights so far.
“It’s a pretty bad day for Newark,” said Mark Duell, a spokesman for FlightAware, a website that tracks commercial airlines. About 40 percent of Newark’s 900 flights have been cut, he said.
If the weather gets much worse, American Airlines and Delta may be forced to cancel more flights in New York and Chicago, Duell said. Chicago was forecast to get 3 to 6 inches of snow by late Saturday afternoon, while several towns in central Illinois had already received 8 inches.
But some areas, including resorts and ski towns in Northern New England, welcomed the snow and were eager to see the winter season get started.
“We have been watching (the forecast) since people first started talking about it on Monday or Tuesday,” said Ethan Austin, spokesman for the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. “Right now it’s setting up pretty well for us, so we’re pretty psyched.”
Meteorologist Paul Head with the National Weather Service in State College said winds will pick up into today, presenting hazardous blowing snow for motorists.
Temperatures in Connecticut dropped into the teens as snow began to fall there Saturday, and officials worried about road conditions since a saltwater solution normally applied before storms would freeze. But they were grateful the bad weather wouldn’t affect workday commutes.
“The timing is pretty good coming on a weekend,” said Kevin Nursick, spokesman at the state Department of Transportation.
Not so for retailers, facing the prospect of a snow-dampened shopping weekend less than two weeks before Christmas.
Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said consumers likely will shop online. And the weekend before Christmas gives retailers and shoppers another opportunity after this weekend.
“If a big storm hits around the 21st, 22nd, it will be a completely different story,” Grannis said.
Caroline Pretyman, a spokeswoman for Northeast Utilities, which serves electric and gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said extra crews would be available beginning overnight Saturday to respond to outages.
In southern New England, light snow began falling by midday Saturday. It was expected to become heavy overnight and continue into early Sunday. Forecasters predicted that that the precipitation would then change into sleet and rain across most of the interior, with rainfall on the coast.
New York City’s Office of Emergency Management asked drivers to stay off the roads and, if they do drive, they should go slowly and stick to major streets or highways.
In Pennsylvania, two state high school football championship games were moved from Saturday to Sunday because of a predicted 5 to 8 inches of snow.
John Wallace, a spokesman at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., said airport officials were meeting with vendors and airlines to assess the impact of the storm. But he said he wasn’t worried.
“It’s New England. It’s the wintertime,” he said. “I think we’re pretty well ready for whatever is headed our way.”