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‘Historic’ snowstorm heading to Northeast

NEW YORK – A blizzard labeled “historic” and “life-threatening” is set to hit the Northeast on Monday, prompting more than 500 flight cancellations and warnings of massive delays to rail and ground traffic, as well as school closings and power outages.

New York City, Long Island, northern New Jersey and large parts of southern New England, including Boston, may receive as much as 36 inches of snow, the National Weather Service said.

The biggest snowstorm in New York City’s history was in February 2006, when 26.9 inches fell. A blizzard warning has been posted from New Jersey to Maine’s border with Canada.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged the millions in the path of the storm to consider staying home Monday, noting that commuter rail, buses and subways may shut down before workers leave their workplace for home.

“As a result, commuters should consider working from home on Monday if possible to avoid disruptions from likely road and public transportation closures,” Cuomo said.

In addition to the blizzard warning, winter storm and weather advisories stretch from Indiana to Maine. As of Sunday night, 572 flights had been canceled across the United States, with 324 from La Guardia Airport, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service.

“Snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour expected late Monday night into Tuesday morning,” the warning posted for New York said. “Life-threatening conditions and extremely dangerous travel due to heavy snowfall and strong winds with whiteout conditions. All unnecessary travel is discouraged beginning Monday afternoon.”

The storm was expected to have little impact in Western New York, according to meteorologist David Church of the National Weather Service.

“Whenever we see those systems, here in Buffalo we’re just too far to the west to really be impacted,” he said.

Light snow from a western push of the storm is expected to begin late Monday morning but taper off Monday night.

“We’ll just be seeing some really light snow here,” Church said. “Any accumulation in our area is only going to be around a couple inches or so – 2 to 3 inches of snow.”

Although officials said they were taking a wait-and-see approach, the storm could affect airline flights in and out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

“Certainly if there are shutdowns in New York or Boston or Philly, then definitely that historically will have an impact on departures and arrivals from our airport,” said C. Douglas Hartmayer, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. “That’s the natural evolution when a storm like this hits. That’s what happens.”

The story in metro New York City was much more dire.

“We expect to have a serious problem on our hands,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Sunday. “We are facing one of the largest snowstorms in recorded history of this city.”

All city agencies are on high alert as New York sanitation workers try to maintain 6,000 miles of road, de Blasio said. He said residents should stay home Monday or leave work early if possible.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will bring on extra personnel who will work 12-hour shifts as it prepares to maintain operations at its airports, tunnels, bridges and train systems, according to an emailed statement.

Secondary roads may quickly become impassible and anyone traveling after Monday afternoon should have a winter survival kit in their car, the weather service said.

New York City schools will be open Monday, with anticipated closures Tuesday, de Blasio said. Alternate-side-of-the-street parking will be canceled.

In addition to heavy snows in New York and Boston, Philadelphia may get 14 to 18 inches, and Trenton, N.J., could pick up as much as 2 feet, the weather service said.

“The system will deepen rapidly Monday through Tuesday,” said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md. “There are some blizzard watches on Long Island and eastern Massachusetts; that is because not only is heavy snow forecast but the wind is going to pick up.”

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged people to have at least three days of food for themselves and their pets on hand before the storm starts. The weather service said people shouldn’t travel after Monday afternoon across New England.

Amtrak plans to operate a normal schedule Monday and will re-evaluate as the storm develops. The U.S. national passenger railroad operates the Acela train between Boston, New York and Washington.

The greatest impact on Boston commuter rail and rapid transit will probably occur on Tuesday, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said on its website. The transit authority may reduce its schedules at the height of the storm.

A high wind watch has also been posted for Cape Cod. Gusts may reach 70 miles per hour with sustained winds of 45 mph, the weather service said.

“Powerful winds may result in downed trees and power outages,” the weather service said. “This is especially true where heavy wet snow accumulates adding to the potential for wind damage.”

Flurries were to begin in New York late Sunday, with snow expected to build during the day Monday.

“The heaviest snow won’t come until Monday night into Tuesday,” said Joe Pollina, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, Suffolk County. The storm was moving across the United States most of Sunday, bringing 2 to 4 inches of snow to the Ohio Valley.