Millions of people from New Jersey to Maine were forced to quit work early, rush to get off roads and highways and take shelter on Monday night as a snowstorm bore down on the region, bringing with it winds of near-hurricane force, the threat of coastal flooding and more than 2 feet of snow.
More than 6,500 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Travel bans were put in place in the half-dozen states in the path of the storm.
Schools and businesses let out early. Government offices closed. Shoppers stocking up on food jammed supermarkets and elbowed one another for what was left. Broadway stages went dark.
In New York City, after calls by the authorities to head home early, workers poured out of office buildings and crowded onto subway platforms, packed train stations and squeezed onto buses. Subway and bus service was to be suspended starting at 10 p.m., the first time subways were shut down because of snow.
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The Lincoln and Holland tunnels were to close at 10 p.m., along with the George Washington Bridge and the Port Authority’s other crossings.
As the storm gathered moisture over the Atlantic and picked up energy, commuters also took to the roads, hoping to beat both the deteriorating weather and the widespread bans on driving that were set to go into effect late Monday. As of 10:30 p.m., New York City had received at least 5 inches of snow.
From Fort Lee, N.J., to Andover, Mass., nearly every road was declared off-limits by government officials to everyone except emergency workers. The orders were both to keep people safe and to allow workers better access to start clearing roads.
“This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio warned.
Joe Pollina, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said Monday evening that the storm remained on track to deliver as much as 3 feet of snow to parts of New York City. The conditions were expected to worsen throughout the evening and then, after midnight, intensify rapidly, with winds topping out at 50 mph.
The storm was expected to rage throughout the night and into Tuesday morning and clear out late in the afternoon.
De Blasio took the unusual step of ordering all drivers off the streets by 10 p.m. Monday, a ban that he said covered “anything that has to do with leisure or convenience,” including, to the chagrin of many housebound New Yorkers, food delivery.
The call to completely clear the city’s streets was a reflection of how seriously public officials were taking the threat of the storm, which was expected to affect a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast.
Across the region, governors declared states of emergency, deployed National Guard units and readied fleets of snowplows and salt trucks.
Coastal areas, including eastern Long Island, Cape Cod and other parts of New England, were expected to be battered by winds that could blow nearly as high as a hurricane – the threshold is 74 mph – leading to possible flooding and widespread power failures that might last for days.
The public seemed to heed the warnings, crowding the aisles of grocery stores and rushing home-goods stores to stock up on supplies.
Ed Russo, 48, said he was stranded in New York City during the 1996 blizzard and waited hours in Pennsylvania Station during a 2010 snowstorm, so this time he gave himself plenty of time to get out of town.
“I’m going to check my e-mail, hunker down, shovel out and make the best of it,” he said.
Given that cars being stranded on roads and highways has proved to be a problem during recent storms, state leaders all had a common message: Get off the roads as soon as possible.
“Mother Nature has decided once again to come visit us in an extreme way,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who banned driving on Long Island, where winds could exceed 70 mph, and most of the counties in the southern part of the state starting at 11 p.m. “This is going to be a blizzard. It is a serious blizzard. It should not be taken lightly.”
Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts echoed those concerns. “This is a top-five historic storm, and we should treat it as such,” he said. “This is clearly going to be a really big deal.”
It is also the first storm Baker is facing since he was sworn in this month and, like other politicians, he is aware that he will be judged on the state’s response.
Baker ordered a statewide travel ban in effect at midnight Monday. The Boston subway system and commuter rail lines were also scheduled to shut down at midnight and remain closed Tuesday.
Mayor Martin Walsh of Boston ordered drivers off the street on Monday evening and said residents would be notified by loudspeaker that a parking ban was going into effect.
“You should not be driving in the city of Boston,” the mayor said. “All residents, once you park your car, leave your car there and do not leave your house.”
Contributing: Associated Press