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Storm hits Mass. with snow, flooding

A storm lingering off the coast is now expected to dump as much as 2 feet of snow on some areas of Massachusetts, and some areas of Boston could get 18 inches, the National Weather Service said this morning, upping previous snowfall predictions.

Officials had been concerned about the storm pounding the coast during the morning high tide, a worry heightened when a dozen houses were compromised on vulnerable Plum Island in Newbury, including one that was ripped from its foundations and teetered into the surf.

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But while attention focused at the coast, the snow quietly and inexorably blanketed the state. A National Weather Service snowfall forecast map shows a large swath of Central and Eastern Massachusetts receiving 18 to 24 inches of snow, including some outlying sections of Boston.

This afternoon, the agency reported snowfall totals for Taunton – where their office is located – at 17.9 inches; as of 1 p.m. Boston recorded 12.9 inches and Norwood had received 20 inches.

Forecasters extended a winter storm warning from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. for the eastern portion of the state and said that it was still snowing moderately at 2 p.m., but radar had begun to show some weakening in the ocean storm.

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Governor Deval Patrick, speaking at a State House news conference, called the morning commute a “mess” and urged people to delay their departure for the evening commute so they don’t end up sharing roads with plows, which slows down both the commute and the plow drivers.

“It’s a good day if you can, if you work in town, to go out on a long lunch and spend time before you head home,’’ Patrick said. “Use your common sense. … Be patient. Take it slow on the roads.”

Patrick and officials from his Cabinet said there had been problems with coastal flooding, dangerously slick roads, power outages, and with the MBTA system earlier today, but none of those issues had reached the level of the February blizzard.

“At this point in the winter, this is a nuisance storm, not an emergency,’’ Patrick said. “And we are managing it.’’

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said the state had deployed 2,800 pieces of snow-removal equipment but, even so, there have been numerous accidents, including one involving a tractor-trailer.

He said the storm briefly knocked out power on the Tobin Bridge, eliminating toll collection for a short period. The E Line on the Green Line also shut down briefly due to the storm, Davey said.

As of noon, 7,400 people are without power in Massachusetts, down from about 9,900 earlier, officials said.

The Plum Island house toppled shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Annapolis Way. No one was injured; the homeowner lives in Florida, neighbors said. The house and others near it had been protected by giant sandbags that the ocean had no trouble surmounting. A refrigerator apparently belonging to the house floated in the waves.

Sam Joslin, the Newbury building inspector, said 12 houses were in jeopardy on the island, including the one toppling onto the beach, two others that will need to be condemned, and two more that will probably need to be condemned. None of the 12 are occupiable in their current condition. All of the houses are on Annapolis Way and Fordham Way.

“We are going to see some damage out of this [high tide],’’ Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, predicted earlier this morning. “It’s coming in as advertised, a strong high tide. We are seeing things out there that could impact homes and really tear up some of these roads, not just deposit some water on them.’’

Boston’s public schools opened, but hundreds of communities across the state opted to keep schools closed or to open them late, according to the WBZ-TV school closings list. Boston officials said that about 400 pieces of city equipment were clearing snow.

Officials urged people to take public transportation, in hopes of reducing the number of accidents.

The HOV lane will not open today on the Southeast Expressway and a speed restriction of 40 miles per hour has been ordered on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

State Police spokesman David Procopio said troopers responded to numerous spinouts, and crashes on interstate highways and smaller state roads, but so far no serious injuries had been reported as a result of the crashes.

The MBTA warned that it might reduce some services due to the storm, especially on bus routes because of road conditions. Shortly before 8 a.m., the T said that all of the system’s bus routes were behind schedule by 20 to 25 minutes due to the slippery road conditions.

Commuter rail delays were also reported this morning on the Kingston/Plymouth, Middleborough/Lakeville, and Needham lines and on the Red and Green lines.

Massport spokesman Matthew Brelis said Logan International Airport is operating, but there are some delays due to periodic runway snow removals. Brelis urged travelers to check with their individual airlines for updates on flight status before heading to the airport.

The Tobin Bridge tollbooth system had power failures today that led to one worker being trapped in the elevator that connects the employee parking lot to the booths and office on the bridge deck, officials said. Emergency crews were able to get the trapped worker out of the elevator by 7:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service warned that the morning high tide, which extended from around 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., posed a significant threat of coastal flooding, essentially along the entire coast from the North Shore to Cape Cod.

Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester and Winthrop Shore Drive in Winthrop were closed. The Department of Conservation and Recreation reported that both Nahant Causeway and Lynn Shore Drive were also being closed.

Beach erosion and some flooding could continue through tonight’s high tide and into Saturday, the weather service warned.

Some communities — including Scituate, Hull, Marshfield, Salisbury, and Rockport — already had reported minor to moderate flooding Thursday, according to the Office of Coastal Zone Management.

In Sandwich, where officials had prepared for evacuations and sent out advisories warning residents in low-lying areas of flood risks, the worst was avoided.

Areas prone to flooding, including Dewey Avenue and the boardwalk, experienced minor flooding during the high tide, though nothing beyond expectations, according to Sandwich Emergency Management communications officer Bill LaPine.

“You always have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And right now, it’s looking like things have turned in our favor,” LaPine said this morning. But state officials said at noon that there was one home in town that was at risk because of the ocean.

In Marshfield, Jack Lee, 51, who lives near a pier at Ferry Street, said this morning that although the flooding at the parking lot across the street looked menacing, it had actually receded considerably and wasn’t as bad as last month’s blizzard.

Lee has lived in the town for 15 years, and at his current address for two years. He spent the morning watching television. “It’s pretty bad out there, but compared to the last storm. Not as windy. The water isn’t as high. Last time the entire street was under water. The water did come up to the street today, just not as high. And we still have power, but if it goes out, there’s a restaurant up the street that has a generator.”

Scituate officials issued a statement at 9:36 a.m., saying coastal areas were experiencing heavy flooding and homes were being evacuated. Heavy, wet snow was causing isolated power outages, the statement said.

While temperatures will drop into the 20s overnight, temperatures on Saturday are expected to recover and reach into the 40s.

This is going to end up being a large storm for all of us, says David Epstein, a meteorologist who blogs for Boston.com.

Snow will begin mixing with rain in the early afternoon, wrapping up in time for the afternoon commute, said weather service meteorologist Charlie Foley.

Wind gusts in excess of 30 miles per hour will continue through Saturday. “Winds abate during the day slowly, but continue at frisky levels,” Foley said.

“We have some concern over Saturday morning’s high tide, but not of this morning’s magnitude,” Foley said.

While this storm has certainly packed a punch, it still can’t compare to the Feb. 8-9 blizzard in terms of power outages, wind gusts, and snowfall, Foley said. This is likely because it arrived at the tail end of the winter storm season. In March, the sun’s angle and overall temperatures are higher, sapping storms’ force.

The irony of it all? “We started so quietly this snow season,” Foley said. “To think there was talk we were going to match last year’s lack of snow.”

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Michael Levenson and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jessica Bartlett contributed to this report.
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