A “crippling” blizzard that could drop up to 3 feet of wet, heavy snow amid whiteout conditions is set to move into the region Monday afternoon.
“This storm definitely has the capability of being not only historic but also catastrophic,” said Benjamin Sipprell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton. The weather service issued a blizzard warning in effect from 7 p.m. Monday to 1 a.m. Wednesday.
“People should be making preparations right now,” Sipprell said Sunday.
“This is going to be all-out whiteout snow, crippling everything. We’re highly advising no travel, starting late Monday, going into Tuesday and on into Wednesday.”
Boston officials will decide whether to declare Tuesday a snow day for public schools “as early as possible” on Monday, said Denise Snyder, a School Department spokeswoman.
“The reality is that we’re watching the weather models just like lots of other folks are,” Snyder said.
The greatest impact will occur in “Central Mass to the Metrowest area, and then into Rhode Island and northern Connecticut,” with snow falling hardest from midnight Monday to midafternoon Tuesday, said Rebecca Gould, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Strong winds are expected with gusts as high as 75 miles per hour, particularly from late Monday into Tuesday. The strongest winds are expected across coastal areas, the weather service said.
Leaders from “key agencies,” including the Massachusetts National Guard, State Police, and the departments of Transportation, Public Health, Conservation and Recreation, and Public Utilities met Sunday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Framingham, said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Their top concerns were providing adequate shelter for those who will need it, assisting stranded motorists, dealing with extended power outages, managing debris, fuel issues, and evacuation support, Judge said. “It’s been a few years since we’ve had a . . . potentially major storm like this,” Judge said.
He noted that since Governor Charlie Baker took office earlier this month, new leadership is in place at many state agencies, but he said that those agencies have many top officials with experience handling major winter storms.
In a statement Sunday night, Baker said, “Unless forecasts change between now and tomorrow evening, people across Massachusetts should presume that roads on Tuesday, and possibly Wednesday, will be very hard, if not impossible, to navigate; that power outages are a distinct possibility; and that most forms of public transportation may not be available.
“We will keep everyone up to date on the storm and the state’s preparation and response efforts tomorrow and Tuesday and ask that all take the necessary precautions for this significant storm.”
“The governor is monitoring the situation closely in coordination with MEMA in order to assess the potential impacts of the storm,” Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker, said in an e-mail.
Guyton did not respond to questions about whether Baker would instruct nonessential state workers to stay home during the storm or potentially impose a travel ban.
Former governor Deval Patrick provoked controversy nearly two years ago when, amid the near-record snowfall of Feb. 8 and 9, 2013, he imposed a 24-hour travel ban that included penalties of up to a year in jail or a $500 fine but little direction to police on how to enforce it.
The ban was the Commonwealth’s first since the Blizzard of 1978, which set a record of 27.1 inches of snow in Boston, according to the weather service. The current record, just a half-inch higher, was set in February 2003. The 2013 storm left nearly 25 inches of snow in Boston.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has more than 4,000 snowplows at the ready, many outfitted with spreaders for salt or liquid deicer, and 250,000 tons of salt available, according to department spokesman Mike Verseckes.
Though the department will be working to keep roads clear, Verseckes urged residents to avoid driving during the storm if possible, to give plenty of space to plows on the road, and to watch for snow accumulation on their vehicles.
“We’re encouraging folks to think safety first,” he said. “Clear off their cars before traveling. Make sure that their tailpipe is clear if the car is running and there’s another occupant in the vehicle.”
Judge said residents should prepare for power outages with flashlights and batteries, non-perishable food, water, and other necessities and should take care of errands ahead of the storm.
Inside the Star Market on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester Sunday afternoon, shoppers wearing snow hats and boots packed lines for all 12 cash registers.
Cheryl Keough, 57, and her husband Bill, 60, of South Boston filled two shopping carts. Bill Keough works as an electrician for the MBTA and his wife said she likes to send food with him in case he gets stuck at work. “I panic,” she said. “This stuff makes me nervous. I want to make sure he’s OK and fed.”
Shirley Robinson, 61, of Roxbury, was buying necessities: bottled water, milk, juice, bread — and cookies. “I have to have something for the sweet tooth,” she said. “That’s important.”
At the Stop & Shop on East Broadway in South Boston, Liban Ali, 48, of Roxbury, was making his third stop seeking salt for his front steps and driveway, but the store had run out. “I’ve got to get what the wife wants,” he said. “I’m not going home without it.”
The city of Boston’s eight salt piles are at capacity, with 35,000 tons on hand, and 700 pieces of snow removal equipment are ready, according to Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
In a prepared statement, Walsh said he has been in “constant communication” with city departments and is confident that Boston is prepared. “Once the storm begins, I ask everyone to be vigilant, stay inside and off the roads or use public transportation when possible, and remember to check on your neighbors, especially the elderly and disabled,” he said.
National Grid has hundreds of utility crews ready, including extra workers called up through partnerships with local construction contractors, according to Jake Navarro, a spokesman for the utility.
NStar has redirected the efforts of all employees to the storm response, company spokesman Mike Durand said.
He urged customers to be cautious, especially those who use emergency generators.
“While they can be useful, it’s important for folks to know they need to be hooked up properly for the safety of our neighbors and line workers,” he said. “If not connected correctly, they can injure or jolt a line worker working on a wire that they think is dead.”
Logan International Airport has 13 specialized runway-clearing plows at the ready and a half-dozen high-speed blowers to disperse snow at the edge of runways that could obstruct wings or engines, said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority. “We had a nice little practice run this weekend, and we’ll be ready for the storm,” he said.
But Brelis cautioned that low visibility caused by falling snow and whipping winds could still cause still force planes to be grounded.
By 9 p.m. Sunday, several airlines had already announced cancellations, including United Airways, which planned to cancel all Tuesday flights at Logan Airport, as well as at airports in New York City, Newark, and Philadelphia.
JetBlue canceled 990 flights scheduled through Wednesday morning; Cape Air canceled 28 flights scheduled for Monday; Southwest canceled more than 130. Virgin America canceled 30 flights in Boston and New York across Monday and Tuesday.
United, JetBlue, Southwest, American, Virgin America, and US Airways have said they will waive applicable fees for customers affected. “Advice to travelers: Call your airline to check on your flight status before you head to the airport,” Brelis said.
Storm preparations were “well underway,” at the MBTA, spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “Because it is very likely that service will be impacted by this storm, customers are strongly urged to check our special winter weather page on MBTA.com for regular updates,” he said in an e-mail.
Pesaturo said crews are checking third-rail heaters to ensure that they are working properly, and Snowzilla, the T’s jet-powered snowblower used to clear tracks on the Mattapan trolley line, “may come out of hibernation.”