FRAMINGHAM — Massachusetts braced itself Monday night for what forecasters predicted would be a “crippling and potentially historic” blizzard that would dump up to 3 feet of wind-whipped snow in some areas and batter the state’s coastal communities.
Snow was just beginning to fall and winds were just picking up late in the evening. Governor Charlie Baker said at a news conference at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency headquarters that the first test of the storm’s strength would be the high tide about 4 a.m. Tuesday, when coastal flooding is expected.
Baker earlier had declared a state of emergency and imposed a ban, effective at midnight, on all motor vehicle travel in the state.
He said at the news conference Monday evening that the storm would soon intensify. “When you wake up in the morning, it’s going to look like a blizzard out there,” he said.
Officials said people were largely being cooperative with official requests for drivers to get off the road. Traffic was heavy in the late afternoon leaving Boston as people apparently headed home to hunker down, as officials had suggested.
As of 9 p.m., State Police said, road conditions were poor on the Massachusetts Turnpike, with troopers dealing with spinouts and cars off the road, despite a reduced speed limit of 40 miles per hour. Several vehicles also slid off Route 6 in Southeastern Massachusetts. But no serious injuries were reported in either area.
Baker also warned residents to prepare for prolonged power outages, saying it could take “multiple days” for some residents to get their power restored.
Forecasters said 1 to 2 feet of snow would fall in many places, but some spots could see as much as 3 feet by the time the storm, a classic nor’easter, ends Wednesday. The snow was expected to fall thick and fast at times, with 2 to 4 inches accumulating per hour.
By about 9:30 p.m., 5 inches of snow had already fallen on Martha’s Vineyard, 4.6 inches in Wareham, and 4.5 inches on Nantucket, according to reports fielded by the National Weather Service.
State offices will be closed Tuesday, along with the MBTA public transit system. Plans call for reopening the offices and the T by Wednesday, but those plans will be evaluated as the storm progresses, Baker said.
Hundreds of school systems across the state announced they were canceling Tuesday’s classes. In Boston, the state’s largest city, officials said school would be canceled both Tuesday and Wednesday.
At Logan International Airport, all inbound and outbound domestic flights were expected to be canceled as early as 7:30 p.m. Monday. The airport expected international flights to continue operating until after 10:30 p.m. The airport expects to resume flights late Wednesday morning.
Service on Amtrak was expected to be reduced, and bus companies also announced service cutbacks. Ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket was discontinued at 7 p.m. and was expected to remain canceled until Wednesday, State Police said.
Tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Boston tunnels, and the Tobin Bridge were dropped at 10 p.m. for toll collector and driver safety, the state Department of Transportation said.
People were scrambling to prepare for the storm up and down the East Coast, from Philadelphia to Boston. New York City was among the metropolises battening down the hatches, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning it would likely be one of the largest blizzards ever recorded there, the Associated Press reported.
In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared a snow emergency parking ban beginning at 6 p.m. City officials said towing of illegally parked cars would begin at 8 p.m. City garages were opened for use by residents for free, and many commercial garages offered reduced rates.
Shortly after 10 p.m., the state Department of Transportation said 3,399 crews were out clearing state roads.
In a blizzard warning issued for Eastern and Southeastern Massachusetts, effective until 1 a.m. Wednesday, National Weather Service forecasters warned that the snow would be whipped by high winds, reducing visbility and making travel “impossible and life-threatening.”
“In this storm, if people go out, they are basically putting their lives in danger,” National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham said. “Once you get home, just stay put.”
The brunt of the storm was expected to be felt from Monday night to Tuesday afternoon, but the storm was expected to linger into Wednesday.
The strong winds accompanying the snow will create a high risk of downed tree limbs and power outages. Gusts will reach up to 75 miles per hour on the Cape from Monday night into Tuesday, forecasters said. The most exposed areas will be the outer Cape and Nantucket, where winds could approach hurricane force, said William Babcock, a weather service meteorologist.
Even Boston could experience wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour, forecasters said. Western Massachusetts will see gusts up to 50 miles per hour.
Forecasters warned of hurricane force winds on the ocean. They urged all mariners to have their boats in port by noon Monday.
Shortly before 10 p.m. Monday, a wind gust of 69 miles per hour was reported on Nantucket.
The travel ban announced by Baker had a variety of exceptions, including first responders, hospital personnel, private plow drivers, and the media. He said the travel ban would be lifted, county by county, as conditions allow.
“We are New Englanders so this isn’t new to most of us,’’ Baker said at the news conference. He described state officials, who are coordinating with city and town officials on storm response, as a group of “experienced professionals who have seen this movie many times.”
About 4,000 workers for NStar and National Grid have spent the past few days preparing for the storm and will be ready to restore power as quickly as possible, said Krista Barnaby, a spokeswoman for Utility Workers Union of America, whose members are employees of both energy providers.
State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said troopers normally assigned as investigators and administrators would be added to the force on the road Tuesday.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan was among state officials offering a host of safety tips. He warned, among other things, of carbon monoxide dangers, emphasizing that people should not run generators inside their houses or garages, and people with heating ducts that vent to the outside should make sure those vents are clear of snow.
Along the coast, flooding is expected to be a major issue Tuesday, forecasters said, especially during high tide around 4:30 a.m. Forecasters warned of beach erosion and structural damage to homes on the coast.
Baker said 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard had been stationed at various locations across the state, but he expected much of their effort would be spent in helping out with the coastal flooding response.
The National Weather Service warned in a tweet that the storm could have a similar impact at the shore as the blizzard of 2013.
“This storm is gearing up to be much like 2013 and, frankly, much like the blizzard of 1978,” Kurt Schwartz, director of MEMA, said.
Temperatures are expected to drop to the single digits Wednesday night, creating dangerous conditions for those left without power after the blizzard. Officials advised people to stock up on blankets, flashlights, and extra batteries.
The snowstorm could break records.
The most snow ever recorded for a single storm in Boston was 27.6 inches during a storm in 2003, followed by 27.1 inches during the legendary blizzard of 1978, according to the weather service.
The fifth biggest snowstorm was the 24.9-inch blizzard of 2013, during which Governor Deval Patrick also imposed a travel ban.