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Baker urges residents to stay home and off the roads during storm; Walsh declares snow emergency in Boston

A front end loader is checked over in front of a salt pile at the Boston Public Works yard on Frontage Road on Wednesday.
A front end loader is checked over in front of a salt pile at the Boston Public Works yard on Frontage Road on Wednesday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Snow swept across Massachusetts Wednesday night, reaching parts of Boston by 9:30 p.m., hours after Governor Charlie Baker and members of his leadership team urged Massachusetts residents to stay home if possible during the storm and directed non-emergency state employees not to go to work Thursday.

“We just got off a phone call with the National Weather Service, and except for the Cape and Islands ... all of Massachusetts tomorrow is likely to see at least a foot of snow,” Baker said during a briefing Wednesday at the State House.

The governor said “we’re obviously asking people to stay off the roads and especially tomorrow, if you can, stay home. That would be the preferred option.”

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Late Wednesday afternoon, Baker’s office released a statement saying all “non-emergency state employees working in Executive Branch agencies should not report to their workplaces on Thursday.”

Most of Massachusetts is under a winter storm warning from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 1 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared a snow emergency and parking ban effective 6 p.m. Wednesday.

As of 2 a.m. Thursday, about 500 electric customers across the state were without power, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency’s outage map.

Residents who must travel, Baker said during the briefing, should “really try and get whatever you need to get done earlier tonight or put it off until some time later tomorrow afternoon.”

That’s not just for your safety, Baker said, but also for the road crews working to clear the snow.

Road conditions were expected to deteriorate quickly due to snowfall rates of one to two inches per hour, the National Weather Service said in a tweet.

The storm was expected to bring heavy snow, strong winds of 45 to 55 mph, coastal flooding, and hazardous marine conditions starting between 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.

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The Massachusetts coast could see minor to low-end moderate flooding during high tide early Thursday afternoon, the statement said.

Winds were expected to increase around midnight with the strongest wind gusts occurring between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., the statement said.

As of 10 p.m., flakes had begun falling as far north as Grafton, and snow continued to move north from southern Rhode Island into central Connecticut, according to the National Weather Service.

Roads were quickly becoming covered across these areas, which had received up to 4 inches by 10 p.m., the agency said. Road conditions were expected to become increasingly difficult as visibility dropped late Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

Temperatures are expected to reach a low of 22 degrees Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Following this week’s storm, quiet, more seasonable weather is expected to return over the weekend and into next week, with the possibility of rain and snow showers Sunday into Monday, according to the weather service.

Boston is expected to receive 8 to 12 inches of snow, while some areas in the northern Berkshires could receive up to 18 inches, Torry Gaucher, a meteorologist with the weather service, said in a phone interview.

Parts of Cape Cod are expected to receive less snow, with the eastern edge only seeing 1 or 2 inches, he said.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said officials have been working to prevent a repeat of the disastrous winter of 2015 that wreaked havoc on the MBTA.

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“Since 2015 the T has invested over $100 million to prevent severe weather service interruptions,” Pollack said, adding that the T “also has contractors at the ready for snow clearing along key bus routes and at T facilities to free up T employees so they can concentrate on core system functions. So, the MBTA is ready for this storm and this winter.”

The commuter rail will be operating on a reduced schedule due to COVID-19 related employee absences, Keolis, the system’s operator, said in a statement.

“We’re closely monitoring the forecast and will have teams deployed across the network to treat infrastructure and passenger areas as snow begins to accumulate,” Keolis chief executive and general manager David Scorey said in the statement. “Our goal is to minimize the storm’s impact on service to ensure passengers who need to travel can use Commuter Rail as an alternative to driving.”

MBTA and Keolis personnel will be deployed across the commuter rail to clear snow, apply sand and salt to passenger areas, and respond to incidents that occur during the storm, such as downed trees, the statement said.

And it’s not just the T getting ready to rumble; snowplows will be manning the roads, officials said, though COVID-19 may complicate matters.

The virus, Pollack said, “has impacted crew availability for the state and some cities and towns. MassDOT and cities and towns have changed their operating procedures to try and minimize as much the possible spread of the virus. But those procedures may mean slower road treatment and plowing that takes longer than usual.”

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While the pandemic could affect plowing, the snow on the flip side could make COVID-19 testing an issue for the thousands of people who plan to get tested Thursday, according to Baker, who urged residents with appointments to contact their testing locations to confirm they’ll still be able to be seen.

Testing sites around the Commonwealth are drive-ups and drive-throughs, and many of them are located in parking lots and many of them are tented,” Baker said. “That combination means that tomorrow morning, if people have planned to get a test or are scheduled to get a test, they should probably reach out to the place they were going to get tested at sometime later today and find out what their circumstance is going to be in the morning.”

Separately in Boston, Walsh declared a snow emergency, his office said in a statement.

A parking ban took effect at 6 p.m., the statement said, though city residents can find information online about which parking garages will offer spaces at a discount.

“Boston hasn’t seen a sizable snowstorm since March of 2019 — over 21 months ago,” Walsh said in the statement. “I am urging everyone to be ready and prepared. I ask all our residents and workers to be alert and remain cautious on our roads and sidewalks.”

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Walsh said the city’s Public Works Department will be “working hard” to pre-treat and clean roads during the snowfall.

Walsh told reporters that Boston Public Schools meal pickup sites will be closed Thursday.

In addition, Walsh said, schools will be fully remote in the morning and the school day will end two and a half hours earlier than the normal dismissal time.

Trash collection slated for Thursday will be moved to Friday, he said, and Friday’s collections will be pushed to Saturday. City Hall and another municipal building at 1010 Mass. Ave. will be closed Thursday, Walsh said, and all scheduled appointments will be cancelled with the opportunity to reschedule.

He said Boston Centers for Youth & Families buildings will also be closed and in-person programming is canceled. Boston Public Library branches will be closed too, including pickup services in the BPL-to-Go program, he said.

The city’s homeless shelters will remain open 24 hours a day during the emergency, and more information on all resources and guidelines during the storm is available online at http://Boston.gov/snow, according to Walsh.

During the earlier State House briefing, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito mentioned one Boston thoroughfare in particular that will likely see flooding during the storm.

“Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester is likely to experience flooding, which will require periodic closures at and around high tides,” she said.

Polito also told reporters that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation will implement parking bans along various roadways managed by the agency.

The affected roadways, Polito said, include Hull Shore Drive and Extension Road in Hull; Nantasket Avenue in Hull; Lynn Shore Drive in Lynn; Quincy Shore Drive in Quincy; Revere Beach Boulevard in Revere; and Winthrop Shore Drive in Winthrop.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Andrew Stanton can be reached at andrew.stanton@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @_andrewstanton.