The nor’easter walloping Massachusetts is expected to snarl Thursday morning’s commute in the region, as forecasts call for up to 8 inches of snow in Boston, which had hoped to escape with only a glancing blow.
The storm prompted Boston Public Schools to cancel school for Thursday, and snow emergencies were declared in communities including Quincy, Newton, Belmont, and Waltham.
“As always, safety is our number one priority,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. “We are encouraging residents to stay off the roads, assist the elderly and disabled, and be sure to use caution during the cold weather.”
Governor Charlie Baker, appearing at the state’s bunker in Framingham, said the storm is unique because it will create different challenges for different regions: lots of snow in the Berkshires and Worcester Hills, tough driving conditions everywhere west of Interstate 95 and Route 128, and a risk of power outages and flooding along the coast.
“Because of the track of the storm, everyone should expect a long and challenging commute home this evening due to the rapid snowfall that will start midafternoon,” Baker said. “For anyone who lives or works west of Route 128, I want to reiterate . . . driving will become treacherous, and you need to plan ahead and be very careful.”
Forecasters said Wednesday afternoon that the expected track of the powerful storm had shifted to the east, and while Boston was once thought to be facing a mostly rain event with only 2 inches of snow, forecasters revised that for up to 8 inches in the city by the storm’s end on Thursday.
Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Taunton office, said Boston could see between 4 and 8 inches of snow, depending on when rain turns to snow in the region. The brunt of the heavy precipitation is expected to batter Boston between midnight and 8 a.m., meaning the morning commute in and around the city could be hampered, especially on secondary roads, Dunham said late Wednesday afternoon.
Rain in Boston and the city’s western suburbs changed to snow Wednesday evening.
Areas inland could see higher snow totals, Dunham said, with pockets of the Route 128 corridor seeing 10 to 14 inches and parts of Worcester County possibly getting up to 18 inches.
Temperatures are expected to reach a high of around 40 Thursday afternoon in Greater Boston and dip down to the lower 30s and upper 20s Thursday night, Dunham said.
Mike Brohel, superintendent of street operations in Boston, said that as the storm unfolds, the city will add plowing equipment, including front-end loaders and backhoes to the salting equipment that started before the brunt of the storm hit.
When precipitation is coming down at 1.5 to 2 inches per hour, salt starts to lose its effectiveness on roadways, he said.
Brohel anticipated about 200 city workers would be toiling as part of Boston’s road treatment and snow removal efforts between about 7 p.m. Wednesday and 4 a.m. Thursday. He said the city could use 10,000 tons of salt to combat the storm.
Brohel, citing the shifting weather forecast, said he did not know how much the storm would cost the city.
“It’s been changing by the hour,” he said. “I won’t truly know until this one’s over.”
As of midnight, there were about 2,500 pieces of snow and ice equipment on the roads, according to the state transportation department.
It’s the second nor’easter to hit the state in a week. Baker revealed at the news conference that several hundred homes were damaged beyond repair by last weekend’s nor’easter, which caused coastal flooding and knocked hundreds of trees into houses across the state. Another 1,500 residences are currently uninhabitable but can be salvaged, he said.
Jonathan L. Gulliver, the state’s highway administrator, cautioned that if, as expected, snow falls at a rate of 3 inches per hour in some parts of the state, plows would struggle to keep up, and roads would become covered by snow.
Communities west of Interstate 95 were expected to get the most snow.
For Plymouth County, Cape Cod, and the Islands, the nor’easter was expected to bring mainly rain, with some areas receiving up to an inch of snow, forecasters say.
The speed limit on the Massachusetts Turnpike was lowered to 40 miles per hour between the New York border and Exit 7 in Ludlow, State Police tweeted.
The storm generated preemptive cancellations by Amtrak and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
At least one Amtrak train traveling from Boston to New York on Wednesday experienced a significant delay Wednesday because of the weather, according to one passenger.
Jenna Luvin, a marketing director who lives in the Seaport, boarded a train at South Station around 1:40 p.m. on Wednesday for a business trip to New York.
The train stopped and lost power outside of New York City, she said. Amtrak workers told her the train stopped because of heavy wet snow and downed trees. The train was stuck without power for about three hours, she said. At first, passengers were told it would be two hours before power was restored, before Amtrak personnel announced that it would be an “indefinite” delay, she said.
“It doesn’t sound good,” she said Wednesday evening.John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.