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Region braces for potentially historic winter storm

Scituate DPW workers loaded sand bags for residents who waited in line in their cars at St. Mary of the Nativity Parish parking lot in preparation for expected flooding from the Saturday blizzard.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

A potentially historic winter storm advanced toward the Boston area Friday, threatening to blast the region with heavy snow and powerful winds that forecasters said could evoke memories of the Blizzard of ‘78.

The National Weather Service warned that snowfall could total 2 feet or more, approaching the snowfall record of 27.6 inches in Boston, winds could reach 70 miles an hour, and whiteout conditions will make travel dangerous, if not impossible.

“This has the potential to be a historic storm, a huge one,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who declared a snow emergency in the city that began Friday night. “This is likely to be an intense, dangerous storm with heavy snow, high winds, and whiteout conditions.”

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As the region braced for the storm’s arrival, coastal residents on the South Shore boarded up windows while shoppers cleared grocery store shelves and stocked up on supplies, with state officials warning of power outages.

A blizzard warning went into effect for communities across Eastern Massachusetts, from the outskirts of Worcester to Cape Cod and the Islands, as well as all of Rhode Island and along New Hampshire’s seacoast and into parts of Maine. Much of Central Massachusetts is also forecasted to receive heavy snow, though less than along the coast.

The two-day snowfall record for Boston was set on Feb. 18, 2003, at 27.6 inches.

“If we get 27.7 inches in Boston, it will be a record snowfall for any storm,” said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton. “Could it happen? Yeah, we’re definitely not going to rule it out.”

Given the expected ferocity of the storm, Governor Charlie Baker urged drivers to stay off the road Saturday “unless it’s an emergency or you have some very essential and absolute reason for being out.”

“This kind of storm is nothing new for Massachusetts, but we have not had one like this for quite a while and everybody needs to take it very seriously,” Baker said at a news conference. “Avoid going out if you can, and be sure to check up on your neighbors who may need help during the storm.”

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The state Department of Transportation is prepared to deploy approximately 3,900 pieces of equipment. But with the storm forecast to drop 2 to 4 inches of snow per hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., officials said it will be a challenge to keep the roads safe.

Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler said there will be a ban on tractor trailers on interstate highways beginning Saturday at 6 a.m. and continuing through midnight.

Many MBTA buses will run on reduced snow routes, while both the commuter rail and subway will run on the regular weekend schedule, said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.

The Green Line’s D branch will close Saturday with replacement bus service running between Riverside and Kenmore, Poftak said. The T is also suspending service on the Mattapan line and replacing it with bus service, he said.

Poftak warned travelers that the storm will likely cause delays.

“At the snow rates we’re looking at, it is going to be very difficult to keep the roads clear throughout the day,” he said. “We anticipate that there will be delays, particularly on bus service. Anyone who is out traveling should take that into account, leave extra time, and also expect that there may be delays as the day unfolds.”

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With the storm bearing down, Baker returned from Washington, D.C., on Friday as he and Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee scrapped plans to attend the National Governors Association meeting.

As part of the emergency declaration in Boston, Wu retained the space-saver rules enacted under former mayor Martin J. Walsh, which allow residents to save a parking space using an object such as a trash can or a cone. Space savers can be used for 48 hours after the city has declared a snow emergency. However, they are banned in the South End.

In Rhode Island, state officials issued a statewide driving ban as the storm approached.

“This is necessary for safety,” said Peter Alviti Jr., director of the state’s Department of Transportation. “This is a big one. The biggest one we’ve had in a while here in Rhode Island.”

Amtrak canceled all Acela trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston on Saturday, along with all Northeast Regional & Vermonter trains between Boston and New York. There will be limited service on the Downeaster line between Boston and Brunswick, Maine, and the Springfield Shuttle service between New Haven and Greenfield, Mass., is canceled, the agency said.

Air travel will also be affected. Airlines canceled more than 600 flights as of Friday evening and the number is expected to grow, according to Jennifer Mehigan, a spokesperson for MassPort, the agency that runs Logan Airport.

“Our dedicated snow crew will do their best, but if at any time it is too dangerous, we would pull them off,” she said by e-mail. “Our aim is to be prepared to restart flights as early as possible Sunday, though passengers should expect delays and possible cancellations Sunday as well.”

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She urged travelers to check with their airline for up-to-date information about flights.

In addition, Peter Ban Bus Lines announced Friday that it was canceling all service Saturday “due to the impending storm.”

The Red Sox said Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine and booster clinic at Fenway Park, which opened earlier this month with the capacity to administer 1,300 doses per day, will be closed Saturday, with the opening on Sunday pushed back to noon.

“Guests with appointments scheduled for Saturday will be notified directly and are invited to come for their appointments on Sunday,” the announcement said.

In its look back at the Blizzard of ‘78, the National Weather Service said the agency issued warnings and alerts before the storm arrived. But, because high winds and heavy snows arrived later than predicted, and due to skepticism about the accuracy of forecasts, thousands of people were trapped on highways across New England.

That storm reached Massachusetts on Feb. 6, 1978; over the course of 32 hours it buried Boston in more than 27 inches of snow.

In Massachusetts, 73 people died, 26 in Rhode Island. In addition, 10,000 people ended up in shelters as high tides ravaged coastal communities amid blinding whiteout conditions, according to the weather service.

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Some utilities say they are ready to deal with any power outages the storm causes.

With the blizzard arriving on a weekend, Baker said he hopes most residents will be off from work and encouraged people who can work from home to do so.

“I think that will help these guys deal with the fact that snow will be falling practically as fast as they plow it away,” Baker said. “And when the winds are blowing, especially down on the South Shore and along the coast, that will create issues as well as with respect to the fact you’ll start seeing drifts and something will get plowed and literally minutes later people will have to plow it again.”

Baker also encouraged residents to order takeout on Friday night to support local restaurants.

“This may be a relatively complex issue for us but for obviously everybody in the restaurant space they’re basically going to lose most of the weekend, which is why it would be great if people could order takeout tonight before the storm starts,” he said.

Carlos Munoz and Taylor Dolven of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.