Millions of people from New Jersey to Maine were forced to quit work early, rush to get off roads and highways and take shelter on Monday night as a snowstorm bore down on the region, bringing with it winds of near-hurricane force and the threat of coastal flooding and more than two feet of snow.
With the storm gathering in intensity as night fell, thousands of flights were grounded, public transportation was suspended or curtailed and travel bans were put in place in the half-dozen states in the path of the storm.
In New York City, after calls by the authorities to head home early, workers poured out of office buildings and crowded onto subway platforms, packed train stations and squeezed onto buses. Subway and bus service was to be suspended, starting at 11 p.m., the first time subways were shut down because of snow.
The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels were to close at 11 p.m., along with the George Washington Bridge and the Port Authority’s other crossings.
Graphic | Status of Airports, Trains, Schools and Other Services in the New York AreaWhat is open and closed as the New York region prepares for a blizzard.
As Sandeep Dutta, 42, waited for his train home at Jamaica station in Queens, he held tight to a backpack with emergency provisions, including waterproof boots and chemical warming packs.
“There’s just more anxiety,” Mr. Dutta said. “You’re anxious to get home, but so far things are working out.”
As the storm gathered moisture over the Atlantic and picked up energy, commuters also took to the roads — hoping to beat both the deteriorating weather and the widespread bans on driving that were set to go into effect late on Monday.
From Fort Lee, N.J., to Andover, Mass., nearly every road was declared off limits by government officials to everyone except emergency workers. The orders were both to keep people safe and to allow workers better access to start clearing roads.
“This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio warned.
Joe Pollina, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said on Monday evening that the storm remained on track to deliver as much as three feet of snow to parts of New York City. Most of the city, he said, could expect around two feet of snow, but in the southern parts of Queens and Brooklyn, totals could reach 36 inches, he said. The conditions were expected to worsen throughout the evening and then, after midnight, intensify rapidly, with winds topping out at 50 miles per hour.
The storm is expected to rage throughout the night and into Tuesday morning and clear out late in the afternoon.
But even as the authorities issued dire warnings, many reveled in the chance to take a day off from school or work and play.
Mr. de Blasio took the unusual step of ordering all drivers off the streets by 11 p.m. on Monday, a ban that he said covered “anything that has to do with leisure or convenience,” including, to the chagrin of many housebound New Yorkers, food delivery.
The call to completely clear the streets was a reflection of how seriously public officials were taking the threat of the storm, which was expected to affect a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast.
Across the region, governors declared states of emergency, deployed National Guard units and prepared fleets of snowplows and salt trucks.
Coastal areas including eastern Long Island, Cape Cod and other parts of New England were expected to be battered by winds that could blow nearly as high as a hurricane — the threshold is 74 m.p.h. — leading to possible flooding and widespread power failures that might last for days.
Map | How Much Snow Has FallenInches of snow and time of measurement as reported by the National Weather Service.
The public seemed to heed the warnings, crowding the aisles of grocery and home-goods stores to stock up on supplies.
Ed Russo, 48, said he was stranded in New York City during the 1996 blizzard, and waited hours in Pennsylvania Station during a 2010 snowstorm, so this time he gave himself plenty of time to get out of town.
“I’m going to check my email, hunker down, shovel out and make the best of it,” he said.
Given that cars stranded on roads and highways have proved to be a problem during recent storms, state leaders all had a common message — get off the roads as soon as possible.
“Mother Nature has decided once again to come visit us in an extreme way,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who banned driving on Long Island, where winds could exceed 70 m.p.h., and most of the counties in the southern part of the state starting at 11 p.m. “This is going to be a blizzard. It is a serious blizzard. It should not be taken lightly.”
Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts echoed those concerns. “This is a top-five historic storm, and we should treat it as such,” he said. “This is clearly going to be a really big deal.”
It is also the first storm Mr. Baker is facing since he was sworn in this month, and, like other politicians, he is aware that he will be judged on the state’s response.
Mr. Baker ordered a statewide travel ban in effect at midnight on Monday. The Boston subway system and commuter rail lines were also scheduled to shut down at midnight and remain closed on Tuesday.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston ordered drivers off the street on Monday evening and said residents would be notified by loudspeaker that a parking ban was going into effect at 6 p.m.
“You should not be driving in the city of Boston,” the mayor said. “All residents, once you park your car, leave your car there and do not leave your house.”
Mr. de Blasio said the decision to order all drivers off the roads in New York City was necessary to ensure that sanitation workers could clear streets and emergency workers could get where they needed to go. He said the order extended to those making food deliveries on bicycles.
“People have to make smart decisions from this point on,” he said. “It is not business as usual.”
While the city announced that parks would be closed to the public at 6 p.m., crews planned to work throughout the storm, clearing roads and paths and removing downed limbs.
In all, the city has deployed some 1,800 plows to clear more than 6,000 miles of roadways.
Subway service will continue on a limited basis after 7 p.m. on Monday, officials said, before shutting down entirely. Service on the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad was to be suspended at 11 p.m. New Jersey Transit was to stop running trains at 10 p.m. and officials said they did not expect rail service to be restored until Thursday. The PATH train system was scheduled to shut down at 11.
At Bleecker Street Pizza, in Greenwich Village, Greg Greenwood, a manager, said he and his team would abide by the mayor’s order, even though it might cut into to the “fair number” of pies that the restaurant typically delivered after 11 p.m.
Mr. Greenwood added that the pizzeria would remain open, despite the weather, until its usual closing time of 2 a.m. “People can trudge out and pick up pizza if they want to — we’ll be here,” he said. “And trust me, they will.”
The record snowfall in New York City came in 2006, when 26.9 inches of snow was measured in Central Park. A blizzard in 1947 left just over 26 inches, and one in 1888 brought 21 inches.
In southern New England, officials braced for as much as three feet of snow and high winds that could cause widespread power failures.
“This is not going to be a run-of-the-mill nor’easter,” said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the Weather Service forecast office in Taunton, Mass. “This storm has the potential to be a historic storm.”
With the authorities issuing warnings as early as Sunday, many who waited to stock up on supplies found themselves out of luck on Monday.
Richie Fioriello, 35, said a Stop & Shop supermarket on Staten Island was out of nearly everything but onion skins.
“My wife was like: ‘I want to make something for dinner. Can you pick up some onions?’ ” Mr. Fioriello said. “I was like, ‘I can’t even buy Tic Tacs.’ They were sold out of everything. It was sick.”
Reporting was contributed by Jess Bidgood, Matt Flegenheimer, Lisa W. Foderaro, Dan Glaun, Michael M. Grynbaum, Kristin Hussey, Amisha Padnani, Nate Schweber and Katharine Q. Seelye.
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