A woman walks across the Brooklyn Bridge in the snow and sleet in the early… (Spencer Platt/Getty Images )
NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had a welcome message for New Yorkers on Friday: Leave work early.
If only the reason for his warning were something other than an approaching snowstorm, the third bout of foul weather to slam the city since Hurricane Sandy devastated it in late October.
It was a message repeated by officials from New York up through northern New England, where blizzard warnings were in effect and where predictions of snowfall ranged from a foot to 3 feet.
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Residents edgy from the destruction of Sandy and from a snowstorm that hit the region just two weeks later swarmed supermarkets and gas stations, emptying shelves and even draining some fuel pumps.
By midday Friday, some snow had begun falling in New York, but most areas were seeing icy rain and winds as the storm began moving into the area.
More than 1,800 flights from New York's three major airports were canceled, Amtrak cut service from New York City northward as of about 1 p.m. EST, and buses and subways in Boston were due to stop running Friday afternoon.
"This is a storm of major proportions," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told a morning briefing. "Stay off the roads. Stay home."
In New York City, which was not forecast to get nearly as much snow as Boston, school was in session and there were no immediate plans to close subways and cancel bus service as occurred during Sandy and during Hurricane Irene the year before.
"This is really a different kind of situation," Bloomberg told the John Gambling radio show during his weekly Friday morning interview, comparing it to Sandy. "We think there's always the possibility of minor flooding ... but we really don't think that's going to happen."
During Sandy, a devastating combination of an extremely high tide and hurricane-force winds swamped subway stations and low-lying areas throughout the region. Some of those areas are far from rebuilt, and Donna Graziano, who oversees a tented aid center on hard-hit Staten Island, was concerned about how her operation in the New Dorp Beach area would withstand the storm.
"I have the tents tied down. We look like we've got it pretty much secure, but we
won't know until the storm really hits," she said Friday as a light rain fell on the area.
Earlier this month, one of the large tents she erected in late October in a Staten Island park to serve as a hub for Sandy victims was blown over in a wind storm. This time, Graziano said she was more worried about flooding. She planned to ride out the storm sitting in her car, keeping an eye on the tents and the mountains of donated goods inside them.
On Long Island, where hundreds of thousands of residents were left without power more than a week after Sandy, crews were brought in from as far away as Michigan to try to avoid a repeat of that scenario.
The storm, predicted to drop about a foot of snow in New York City, would be the first major snowstorm to hit the city since October 2011. Earlier that year, in January, about 9 inches fell in Central Park.
A Christmas 2010 blizzard pummeled the city with about 2 feet of snow and caught the city, in the grips of the holiday, unprepared and lacking the workers needed to plow streets. Buses and cars became stranded on snow-clogged streets, something officials made clear would not happen this time if people heeded warnings to avoid unnecessary travel to make way for snowplows.
"Our biggest concern is making sure people get home from their day and that they don't abandon their cars in the middle of the road," said Bloomberg.
For those skeptical, or just curious, about his promise to get plows out onto the streets early in the storm, the mayor noted that the city has introduced a high-tech way for residents to track snowplows' progress: with a plow-tracking system on the city's website at NYC.gov.
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